By Britney Grover
On the first Saturday in May, horse fans gather around the country to celebrate the first race in the Triple Crown. Near Memphis in Collierville, Tennessee, the annual Jockeys & Juleps event features big hats, bourbon, bluegrass and a live broadcast of the Kentucky Derby. It’s been named one of the top 10 parties in Memphis, but it’s much more than a memorable evening: It’s the primary fundraiser for Southern Reins Center for Equine Therapy.
“Presented by FTB Advisors, proceeds from this premier event contribute directly to our program services to provide equine-assisted activities and therapies to support people with disabilities and hardship throughout the Mid-South,” said Executive Director Jill Haag. “This annual event has sold out since its inception in 2016, and we’re thrilled to have had such tremendous support as we celebrate the Run for the Roses… Memphis style!”
Therapy… Horse Style
Jill grew up on a horse farm in Virginia, cultivating her love of and appreciation for horses and what they can do for people. “Horses are magnificent creatures that bring out the best in us all,” she said. “They are powerful, generous, forgiving and challenging — and they are keenly intuitive to humans. They provide nonverbal communication and feedback, and are always ‘talking to us.’ Learning how to communicate with a horse can be incredibly empowering. That’s one of the things I love most about what we do, because it’s unlike any other type of therapy or activity.”
A PATH Intl. certified registered therapeutic riding instructor, Jill served as the executive director of EQUI-KIDS Therapeutic Riding Program in Virginia Beach, Virginia, before moving to Collierville in 2014. “I was thrilled to connect with people here who saw the great need for equine therapy, and honored to be a part of launching Southern Reins Center for Equine Therapy to meet that need in 2015,” Jill said.
The program began in Mississippi with 12 participants that fall; now, the Southern Reins roster is over 200 individuals from 3 to 78. Most of the participants are under 18 with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities. Their programs include therapeutic horseback riding, hippotherapy and equine-assisted psychotherapy; the Silver Stirrup Program, an informational session offered to nursing homes and other groups; the Making Strides recreation therapy program; Equine Services for Heroes, providing equine-assisted therapies for military and first responders, and more.
With so much growth in such a short amount of time, Southern Reins had to expand. In January 2018, they closed on the 28-acre Collierville facility including a 12-stall barn, covered arena, turnout pastures and a home that they converted to office space. With a satellite campus at Lynch Ranch in Hernando, Mississippi, Southern Reins is poised to continue expanding its influence in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee with year-round sessions all conducted by certified instructors, therapists and mental health professionals.
Southern Reins is home to a group of horses just as varied as the needs of their participants. “We currently have 12 horses and ponies, and they are truly the backbone of our program,” Jill said. “Many have had past careers in the show ring, on the polo field and as trail mounts. Each has their own unique personality and needs, and each is invaluable to our program. The majority of horses are on loan to us, serving in their second or third career.”
Many of the horses are sponsored, helping to offset costs, but Southern Reins also seeks donations to provide participant scholarships, contributions to fund Equine Services for Heroes, in-kind gifts to reduce operational expenses and volunteer support. They are embarking on a capital campaign to raise money to expand the facility and infrastructure in response to growing demands as they seek to be recognized as a premier therapeutic riding program.
“Southern Reins is a place of miracles and hope, and it’s a place where disabilities disappear on the backs of our four-legged therapists, and abilities shine through,” Jill said. “Through the therapies we provide, we are changing lives… one ride at a time.”
For more information, visit www.southernreins.org
Photos courtesy of Southern Reins