REATH Center helping through horses

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Center to host fall festival this weekend

By Zac Oakes


Horse riding is not exactly a common association that people make when it comes to thinking about therapy.

However, for Sammy and Marchetta Garrison, as well as several local families in the Campbellsville/Taylor County area, the concept has made a significant difference in their lives.

Sammy, along with his wife Marchetta, who is a fourth-grade teacher at Taylor County Intermediate School, own and operate The REATH Center, located at 55 Heritage Drive in Campbellsville. REATH is an acronym for Riding Enhanced Around Therapeutic Horses, but it is also the middle name of Sammy and Marchetta’s daughter, Sabrina.

They opened The REATH Center about 12 years ago after their daughter was diagnosed with a mild case of cerebral palsy.

“There was basically no therapy for her after she turned the age of three,” Marchetta said. “There were not any therapy centers around here at the time, so there was not really any therapy that we could do. It was just us working with her.”

Marchetta said they had heard about therapeutic riding in the past, but did not think too much about it until Sammy read an article in a magazine about it and the two decided to give it a try.

“I’ve always loved horses, so I thought it was really cool and told him we needed to give it a try,” she said.

The Garrisons went to Shelbyville, about 70 miles from Campbellsville, where they fell in love with therapeutic riding.

“When we walked through the gates there, I just knew in my heart that was what we needed to be doing,” Marchetta said.

For nearly two years, they went to Shelbyville every Saturday when weather permitted and later began volunteering there.

One day, as they were coming home from Shelbyville, Marchetta posed a question that caught Sammy off-guard.

“It’s kind of a funny story,” Marchetta said. “We were driving home and I looked over at him and I said, ‘Do you think we can do something like this in Campbellsville?’ And he said ‘do what?’ and then I told him and he said, ‘Are you crazy?’”

“He laughs about it now,” she added.

Marchetta said they prayed about it and ultimately came to the conclusion that they felt led to open a therapeutic riding center in Campbellsville.

Starting out, they had no land and no horses, but after purchasing some land from Marchetta’s father, their dream began to turn into reality.

The REATH Center has a simple mission statement: “… meeting rider needs through safe riding experiences and to expand the function of children and adults with special needs by providing them with challenging and educational activities through the use of therapeutic horses.”

Therapeutic horse riding has many benefits for children with a variety of medical conditions, including cerebral palsy, autism, muscular dystrophy, traumatic brain injuries, developmental delays, spina bifida, and many others.

Marchetta said therapeutic riding is effective because of the similarities between horse and human movement, including the number of steps per minute and pelvic rotations and shifts.

“If you are on the back of a horse while it is walking, you are moving your hips in a way you would be if you were walking on the ground,” she said. “So for someone who does not have really good muscle tone in their legs or is not able to walk, the horse essentially does for them what they would do if they were walking.”

Therapeutic horse riding is also helpful with improving social skills, Garrison said.

For each individual rider, Marchetta creates individualized lesson plans and goals. As of now, there are currently seven riders at The REATH Center. The operation has one Tennessee Walking Horse and a miniature horse. The Garrisons faced a tough decision to recently put down one of the horses that had been at the center since the beginning due to a brain tumor. However, they are looking at adding one or two horses in the near future.

As of now, there is not an indoor arena for riding, so rides are weather-permitting, depending on rain and temperature. Marchetta said they usually begin around the time the local schools are on spring break and end around the time the schools are on fall break, though that can fluctuate, especially in years like this year when October weather is warmer than average.

For anyone who is interested in becoming involved with the program, either as a participant or as a volunteer, they can visit The REATH Center’s Facebook page, its website at www.thereathcenter.com, or by contacting Marchetta via phone at (270) 789-8654. A fall festival will be held at The REATH Center this Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The festival is completely free, with food, games, prizes, auctions, and giveaways for the whole family. Everyone is invited to attend and see how The REATH Center operates firsthand. The fall festival is sponsored by The Rock Community Church.