ASSUMPTION — Along with the rest of the staff and residents at Kemmerer Village, Amber Miller has a lot to look forward to as fall approaches.
On Tuesday, the Presbyterian child care agency kicked off its "Horses for Heroes" program, which allows children with disabilities to participate in riding sessions on therapy horses. The program spans five weeks in the fall and another five weeks in the spring.
Kemmerer Village also welcomed an 8-year-old, black and white Gypsy Vanner named Oreo to its group of horses last month.
"She's going to be a very good therapy horse," said Miller, the agency's equine therapist and certified riding instructor.
She said that Gypsy Vanner horses such as Oreo are strong, calm and have broad backs.
"They're just super mellow horses," Miller said. "We have one boy that rides in our program whose entire body tremors," Miller said. "Having a horse like Oreo is critical to his safety."
Miller said that Kemmerer Village won Oreo in a contest held by the LexLin Gyspy Ranch in Rockwood, Tennessee.
The ranch agreed to donate Gypsy Vanner horses to the top 20 ranches and organizations that earned the most votes by the end of the contest. Kemmerer Village finished in seventh place with 15,442 votes, Miller said.
"We're really building a specialized herd now," she said.
Five horses are currently saddled and ready to ride for the Horses for Heroes program, and Miller said that Oreo will join them in due time.
To assist with grooming the horses and attending to the children riding them for their safety, 12 of the 35 residents currently at Kemmerer Village are serving as "heroes" for the program.
The agency provides a wide range of services for the young people who stay at the facility and their families, including foster care, residential treatment and recreational therapy.
Autumn Warren, associate director of financial development, said that creating a relationship with the horses not only provides a therapeutic outlet for the residents, but also helps them develop beneficial life skills.
"It's a constant relationship-building thing," she said. "It really is more like a human interaction. The more you see them, the more you have to work to build a relationship with the animals."
Tuesday's kick-off session mostly served a fundraiser for donors who support the Horses for Heroes program. Miller said that next week the program will return to its focus of providing therapy for disabled children.
Among those who rode on Tuesday were Payton and Paxton Carter.
The brothers said until that evening, they had never ridden a horse previously. After they dismounted and removed their safety helmets, Payton, 8, and Paxton, 9, excitedly chattered about their experience with each other.
When asked if they'd ride again someday, both answered with a simultaneous "yes."
"I'd probably ride again, if I got the chance," Paxton said.