Healing on Horseback

Horses connect with people in special ways

By Susan Hoskins Miller
Photos courtesy of Agape

Tucked away in the countryside north of Cicero is a 13-acre horse farm with riding arenas and beautiful wooded acreage with trails. But this isn’t just any horse farm. This farm is Agape Therapeutic Riding Resources.

Miracles

Agape’s motto is “Unbridled Hope.” That’s what they give to their 1,900 clients every year. Most come weekly. Agape’s clients come to them with a wide range of issues they need help with healing. Some can’t verbalize their thoughts, some have memory issues and some have physical disabilities. The horses, guided by professional therapists and instructors, bring out abilities in these students they have never before been able to master on their own or through traditional therapies.

“Agape does equine therapy as opposed to hippotherapy,” said Donita Wire, who, with her husband, Ben, has volunteered at Agape for the past 19 years. “We are people of faith, and we know that God is working here, too. We’ve served in many different capacities as volunteers, and we’ve seen miracles.”

One miracle they’ve witnessed happened with a client named Bill. “He was in his thirties when he came to us,” Donita said. “He was developmentally at a grade school level and didn’t speak much. He was also shy. He was so unsure of himself when he started on the horse.”

Beginners like Bill don’t use regular reins when they first ride a horse until they are a little more experienced.

“They use a large strap that looks like a handle. He was sitting on a big pad and held on to that strap so tight the horse thought he wanted it to go faster,” Donita said. “We worked with him for two or three years and he started improving.”

Soon Bill was able to not only guide the horse, but he gained confidence in his own abilities. The biggest difference, though, was in his verbal skills.

“He’s now a spokesman for Janus,” Donita said. “His guardian attributes his speaking skills to Agape. 

Unconditional Love

Ben said volunteering at Agape is therapeutic for him and Donita, too.

“The staff, other volunteers and the families of the clients are the most loving people you will ever see,” he said. “We learn so much from them.”

The word Agape (pronounced uh-GAH-pay) is Greek for unconditional love. That is the environment that Agape provides for all its clients, their families and volunteers.

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