Our Festival for Autism is coming soon! At the Festival, we will have many Autism-friendly vendors ready to share their services with you. Take a moment and get to know one of our returning vendors, SpiritHorse Therapeutic Riding Center!

Content in this vendor profile written by Cheryl Cleaves, founder of SpiritHorse Therapeutic Riding Center of Canton, Inc. 

About SpiritHorse Therapeutic Riding Center

1377985597SpiritHorse Therapeutic Riding Center was founded in September, 2012 by Cheryl Cleaves. Her 11 year old son was diagnosed with Autism in early 2012. Cheryl’s love of horses and the need to help her son led her to SpiritHorse International of Corinth, TX, where she was trained and certified as an equine-assisted healthcare instructor. Her goal was to open a Therapeutic Riding Center in the Farmington Valley. By September, 2012 SpiritHorse Therapeutic Riding Center of Canton, Inc. became a licensed affiliate of SpiritHorse International,  a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization.


The mission of SpiritHorse Therapeutic Riding Center is “To Assist Each Child with Special Needs in Reaching Their Full Potential through Interaction with Horses”.


SpiritHorse Therapeutic Riding Center provides weekly therapeutic riding lessons for people of all ages with disabilities. All lessons are private, and are taught by certified SpiritHorse International Therapeutic Riding Instructors who volunteer their time with the organization. Their support staff of Instructors, Sidewalkers, Administrative and Barn Help are also volunteers.

photoWhat Makes SpiritHorse Unique?

SpiritHorse has developed a research-based program of equine-assisted health care, which has a different goal than that of recreational therapy. It includes, for example, 178 specific steps provided in a one-on-one setting for intervening with its over 200 children diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder at SpiritHorse International in Corinth, TX. This is the exact same program used in Canton.

A Typical Lesson at SpiritHorse

A typical lesson at SpiritHorse begins with the rider leading the pony or horse from the pasture gate to the barn, with assistance from their instructor. SpiritHorse ponies and horses can lead from wheelchairs, walkers, and canes.

Next, the rider assists with grooming to the ability they have and can develop. SpiritHorse has found that this participation becomes a very important part of the lesson for their riders. They learn sequencing, two-step task execution, following instructions, and work-reward. They also develop a stronger bond with their pony or horse!

photo-2Riders then lead their horse to the mounting ramp, and their instructor leads the pony into the ramp. At least one of the child’s parents is required to be a “side walker” for their child at this point, because SpiritHorse believes parents are the world’s best experts on their child. They assist the rider up the ramp to mount the horse. Over time SpiritHorse works to have the rider become more self-sufficient. This provides a greater sense of control and pride in being able to do most of the mount on their own.

The ridden portion of the lesson begins with a trail ride down a wooded road and trail, and continues with exercises and riding development in a small ring, in which the pony or horse is controlled by the instructor using a lunge line.

New Programs Available!

Recently, SpiritHorse added two new programs to their therapeutic services.

  • One Hour “Mentorship Lesson”: Teens with disabilities are paired with teen volunteers working on the grounds and with various horses and ponies, learning about horse care while forming a lasting friendship! This program is perfect for teens with social difficulties and those needing to boost their confidence. Mounted and Dismounted lessons available.
  • Summer Program: SpiritHorse will be offering weekly and “mini-weeks” of summer fun at the farm! Teen volunteers will be paired with students as they explore farm life and learn about horses and ponies. Arts and crafts, games, activities, animal care, and riding instruction will prove a fun and active summer camp! Enrollment is limited to four students per week to provide lots of 1:1 time!

Volunteers Wanted!

Volunteers are a major asset to SpiritHorse. They help in operations and everyday tasks, helping SpiritHorse to continue providing services to their many riders. If interested, please fill out the volunteer application available on their website. Applications can be submitted by mail or in person at 174 Morgan Road, Canton, CT 06019. All volunteers are screened through an interview process, and are subject to a background investigation.