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National Ability Center’s annual Barn Party supports programs for people with disabilities

Eileen Johnston
National Ability Center

The National Ability Center is hosting its annual Barn Party Saturday. It supports Adaptive Horseback Riding and Equine-Assisted Learning Programs.

The Barn Party is Saturday, June 1, at the NAC Ranch and Equestrian Center. All proceeds from the Barn Party support the NAC’s adaptive horseback riding and equine-assisted learning programs. Equine manager Meghan O'Toole said the programs cost around $300,000 annually to care for the horses and pay staff. She said the adaptive horseback program is mounted horse riding for people with disabilities. The program can help participants improve their balance, coordination, social skills and self-confidence.

“We adapt accommodations for whatever a person's needs are,” O’Toole said. “So we might use specialized tack, we might use our amazing volunteers to help us with balance or increasing social skills or whatnot.”

O’Toole said the equine-assisted learning program does not involve riding, but instead focuses on fostering a relationship between horses and humans. People with and without disabilities can join the program to develop confidence and social and communication skills.

O’Toole said horses and humans have an interesting relationship because horses are naturally wired to be fearful as they are prey animals and humans are predators. So participants have to learn to read the horses’ body language to be able to approach them in a way that makes them feel safe.

“It teaches us a lot about ourselves and gives us a sense of self-awareness so that we can, you know, read the room basically and figure out what we need to do to make it a working relationship," O'Toole said.

The NAC currently has 14 horses at the ranch, but O’Toole said it wants more horses for the programs. She said the two programs have a waitlist because they are so popular and they have grown by 33% in the past several months.

The Barn Party is from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and features family-friendly events including face painting, a saloon and an auction. A dinner will start at 5:30 p.m., followed by a live show at 6:30 p.m. The event wraps up with line dancing at 8:30 p.m. Visit the website for Barn Party tickets and more information.