On track to grow: Macon TRACs’ in-school horse therapy program moves beyond pilot stage
A summer school horse therapy offering at South Macon Elementary School in Franklin will be sticking around once the school year starts, thanks to some successful fundraising efforts at Macon TRACs. The nonprofit, which provides horse therapy to children with special needs, had offered to come in on a trial basis during summer school with the hope that the program could become a permanent fixture at the school. Much of the decision on whether to do so rested on funding.
“We are very confident that we have enough money to do our regular programs that we’re already doing plus take on the school program to run through next spring,” said Jan McGee, executive director. “We are starting to investigate grants, and we’re hoping there’s a grant out there that would help with the funding of the school portion.”
The program uses volunteer horses and a roll of volunteer people, save a few more involved workers who receive a stipend, but TRACs still has to pay for diesel fuel to travel with the horses, insurance and organization membership fees. McGee’s estimate is that taking two horses to South Macon one day per week will cost another $3,500 per year.
“There is talk about us going to other schools and doing it more than one day a week,” McGee said. “We are going to baby-step it because once we make the commitment to do it, we want to make sure that not only can we do it horse-wise and volunteer-wise but moneywise too.”
McGee has long held a belief in the power of horses to heal, and since starting Macon TRACs in 2008, she’s seen that power borne out again and again. Physically, riding a horse helps children with muscular disabilities such as cerebral palsy become stronger without doing anything that feels like work. And often, the horses are therapeutic for children with mental or emotional disabilities. McGee can see the difference from the beginning of the season to the end, and she’s excited to finally see the work expand.
“There are a lot of parents that are struggling,” McGee said. “Having a special needs individual in your family is incredibly challenging, and there are a lot of these kids we see that the parents, for whatever reason, can’t get the child to us. The fact that we are going in and taking that burden off that parent — I think it is just a very special opportunity.”
With two horses, TRACs can give half-hour lessons to as many as 12 students before regulations require that the horses get a break. They’ll do it right there at the school, meaning parents won’t have to drive, and while the lesson fee is $25, TRACs has scholarships available for children whose families can’t pay.
The fall session will begin once school administrators have had the chance to settle students into the new school year — “We really want to be an asset to them and not make their job harder,” McGee said — and lessons will continue until the winter cold sets in. Usually TRACs can go until Thanksgiving, but early winters can change that timeframe. The program will gear up again once spring returns.
McGee would like to see TRACs eventually become a regular offering at an increasing list of Macon County schools, but her philosophy is to grow slowly so the foundation is strong. Right now, TRACs is working on fundraising projects such as individual child sponsorships so that a person or organization can fund a particular child’s lessons and watch their progress.
“We are ready to launch this program for real,” McGee said.
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