Despite the cold, windy weather, Charles Lindsey was all smiles as he rode Molly, a trained therapy horse, around the covered ring on a recent Thursday afternoon.
Charles is one of the riders with special needs who benefit from Hippotherapy, therapeutic horseback riding, at in Snellville. Charles’ mom, Patricia Lindsey, said Charles has been riding at Parkwood Farms for three years.
“Since he’s been riding, he’s more aware of his body," she said. "He’s using his limbs better in other therapy like swimming. It’s helped with all his sensory issues."
Dr. Marilyn Peterson decided to build Parkwood Farms because of her adoptive son, who is autistic. She said the family tried many things to reach him, but that it was eventually equine therapy that made a difference. Her son’s progress was all the encouragement she needed to sell her home in Norcross and purchase nine acres in Snellville to build her dream, a multi-discipline therapy center for special needs children. Parkwood Farms was founded in 2002.
“There wasn’t anything like this in our area,” she said.
Since its inception, the center has expanded to include several other services such as chiropractic and oxygen therapy on-site for the riders.
According to its website, parkwoodfarms.org, Parkwood Farms Therapy Center, Inc. is a privately funded, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The center relies on donations from individuals, businesses and organizations to provide necessary equipment for the riders and care for the horses and facilities. In addition to funds, the center also welcomes contributions of used or outgrown horse tack, building supplies, bug spray, food and supplies for the horses and volunteers’ time.
“We have a lot of groups who come out to spend a day clearing trails and helping with the grounds and the horses, and that’s a big help," Peterson said. "This takes a lot of work to keep up.
Albert Perez, a senior at The University of Florida, saw the need for volunteers at Parkwood Farms, and he used his college spring break to give his time helping out at the center.
“I’d done the typical beach spring break, but I wanted to meet some new people and make a difference,” he said. “I found out about Parkwood Farms through Florida Alternative Breaks, and since I love horses and helping kids, this was a perfect fit.”
Peterson said the center and its volunteers helps approximately 40 riders with special needs each week. As she watched Charles Lindsey ride around the ring, surrounded by volunteers and practicing his horseback exercises, she smiled.
“My ultimate goal is for all of them to ride independently," Peterson said. "And I know they can.”
To volunteer or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit parkwoodfarms.org.