Healing With Horses

Time in the saddle changes lives at this therapeutic riding center.

By Jason Jenkins | Photos By Healing Strides of VA

Carol Young sees miracles every day. “Fabulous things happen here,” says the executive director of Healing Strides of VA. “Everybody refers to it as horse ‘magic,’ but there’s more to it. We laugh a lot. But we cry, too.”

Young says it’s hard to hold back tears when she hears a nonverbal second-grader speak his first words because he wants to continue his ride. Or when she sees a veteran who, after six tours in Afghanistan, finds new purpose and personal peace while reconnecting with his 11-year-old daughter—all thanks to riding lessons and working with the center’s horses. “I can tell stories like that all day,” Young says. “This job will exhaust you emotionally, physically and spiritually, but it’s satisfying to know you made a difference.”

Nestled in southwest Virginia’s Roanoke Valley, Healing Strides has made that difference since 1991. Today, the accredited nonprofit organization offers equestrian-focused services to those with physical, emotional or cognitive disabilities. Services include using a horse’s movement as treatment (hippotherapy) and therapeutic horsemanship, which adapts recreational riding lessons for those with autism or other disorders or disabilities.

More than 175 participants attend weekly sessions to address issues with everything from strength and balance to self-confidence and post-traumatic stress. “We also have a specific program for veterans, including a drill team,” Young adds.

The center receives support from many local businesses, including southwest Virginia AGCO® dealer Boone Tractor. Healing Strides’ 18 part-time and full-time employees join dozens of volunteers who donated nearly 10,000 hours of service in 2017. Of course, the most important employees are the 22 horses who work side by side with coaches and instructors to make the “magic” happen.

“Our horses are amazing. Most are in their third or fourth career,” Young says. “They come in all shapes and sizes, but they’re all serious, intelligent and love people. Horses are sentient animals. They can feel and interpret what a rider is doing and decide how to handle it. They build a relationship and an understanding that we don’t completely understand, but it’s a miracle what it can do.”

To learn more about Healing Strides of VA, visit