Southern Delaware Therapeutic Riding hosts annual barn dance

October 21, 2021

Melissa Klerlein held on tight to the mechanical bull inside the Southern Delaware Therapeutic Riding barn on Oct. 18 before flying off and falling into the inflated pit while a small crowd cheered and took pictures.

The bull ride was just one part of SDTR’s annual barn dance fundraiser. Lit by dangling stringer lights, the open-air barn was filled with around 300 people who enjoyed food from Whole Roast Barbecue of Salisbury and country western music from The Mason Dixon Band.

The event offered line dancing, celebration, live auctions and even an appearance by therapy horse Molly, who held court from her stable with a gentle demeanor as onlookers scratched her nose.

Now in its fifth year, the SDTR barn dance raises funds to support the operational costs of running the barn and SDTR’s equine therapy program, which is largely subsidized to ensure accessibility.

Equine therapy is an evidenced-based intervention used to help with a variety of conditions including autism, anxiety, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, to name a few. A horse’s stride mimics the human gait in rhythm, which allows riders with physical disabilities to gain muscular strength and balance. Psychologically, equine therapy instills a sense of self-discipline and independence.

Myndi Smithers, an SDTR volunteer, has seen the effects of equine therapy firsthand. “The horse is just an amazing animal,” she said. “For people with emotional issues, a horse is so calm, it just settles you. Kids will come in screaming the first time they are here. Within three lessons, they are riding the horse and following the instructors. It’s pretty incredible the progress they make.”

Jennifer Swingle, a volunteer and the event coordinator for the barn dance, shared a similar sentiment.

“I always say that I came for the horses and ended up staying for the riders,” she said. “To watch a lesson in this arena is to watch the smiles and the transformations that take place. We’ve had kids who don’t speak, they might have five words in their vocabulary, and the fourth word they ever spoke was out in [the arena].”

That kind of progress keeps the barn dance running year after year, and Swingle has helped grow the event since its beginning. “It’s just amazing to have people come out and support us.”

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter