Thursday, September 28, 2023

This outfit in Toano is not horsing around

Children participate in a Dream Catchers’ summer camp where they engage in Equine-Assisted Activities with therapy horses. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Dream Catchers at the Cori Sikich Therapeutic Riding Center)
Children participate in a Dream Catchers’ summer camp where they engage in Equine-Assisted Activities with therapy horses. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Dream Catchers at the Cori Sikich Therapeutic Riding Center)

Looking for a new best friend? How about one that weighs 1,000 pounds?

Well, Dream Catchers at the Cori Sikich Therapeutic Riding Center can offer just that. The center, located on 22 acres in nearby Toano, is home to a 20-stall barn, 12 horses, two miniature horses, and a team of highly trained staff, specialists, and volunteers.

Founded in 1993, Dream Catchers is best known for their Equine Assisted Activities, or EAAT, a range of services which includes: therapeutic riding, therapeutic horsemanship, equine assisted learning, equine assisted psychotherapy with a licensed mental health provider, and speech therapy with a licensed speech-language pathologist.

The center, accredited by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, provides 80 to 100 lessons a week for individuals with physical, emotional or developmental needs, participants ranging in age from as young as 4 years old to seniors in their 90s.

For those who have never heard of EAAT before, Beth Yurkovac, operations manager for Dream Catchers, shared the center’s philosophy.

“Our educational approach is to help individuals facilitate life skills,” Yurkovac said. “There are no cookie cutter curriculums. We focus on clients as individuals, and design programs and services targeting their short-term, long-term, and life goals.

For example, if a parent says I would love for one of my child’s life goals to be to ride a bicycle, to get on a bike. We work with them to develop these exact same skills of actually mounting or getting on the back of a horse. The riding skills are targeted toward their goals [of]  increased muscle strength, improved balance, fine motor skills. While building their confidence and independence along the way.

Or if a child has trouble with speech, poor tone, a collapsed core, if they can’t hold their body upright, or develop correct breath, the horses movement will help influence their outcome.  [Over time], through riding, the child’s body will strengthen, they’ll sit tall, and start to develop their breath. Then a therapist can come in, once the horse has provided the movement, and start targeting speech. With oral motor control, the horse can help the student to focus, providing a grounding effect.”

And the services don’t stop there.

In addition to EAAT, the center also offers summer camps, single-day field trips, programming for school groups, and corporate team building retreats.

But why horses?

“It’s the human-animal bond. Horses are sentient beings. They have feelings and emotions that mirror human emotions, and they provide direct ‘in the moment’ feedback,” Yurkovac said. “When we’re looking to teach kiddos about healthy boundaries, they can’t push around a horse, a 1,000-pound animal. We teach them safety and how to become horse detectives: to be observant, to watch their horses and listen to what their body language is showing them.”

It’s not too late to sign up for one of Dream Catchers summer camps.

Camp Resilience offered in late July is dedicated to military children and Camp Courage offered in late August is dedicated to children of first responders.  These camps will focus on the increased anxiety children often face when a parent is in a high-risk career, weaving in new coping skills and helping them to discover their strengths within.  Dream Catchers is also offering several Inclusion Camps, which are open to the public and will provide a unique educational experience all through partnering with some amazing horses.

For more information on Dream Catchers at the Cori Sikich Therapeutic Riding Center, their services, and mission, click here.

John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzo ( is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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