Gaining speed

By Todd Cohen

Prancing Horse, a Moore County nonprofit that provides therapeutic horseback riding to children with special needs, wants to expand operations.

The group, located between Cameron and Vass, launched an endowment last year with a $100,000 gift from the grandfather of a former rider, and has begun an effort to encourage donors to make gifts through their wills and estate plans.

The nonprofit also wants to step up annual fundraising to increase its annual budget, now roughly $120,000, to support an expanded staff, says Janet Mason, program director.

And it wants to relocate to a new facility closer to Southern Pines, where most of its volunteers live.

Ronni Meltzer, the group’s founder and volunteer executive director, says it is talking with officials at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg about working with a class in the school’s therapeutic-riding curriculum to help the new facility.

At the same time, the group’s board is studying the feasibility of raising money for the move.

“We’re working at capacity, and we’d like to work more,” says Meltzer, who last year was named volunteer of the year for Region 3 of the Denver-based North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

Founded in 1984, Prancing Horse initially worked with preschoolers at Sandhills Children’s Center in Southern Pines.

But after several years, when those children moved on to elementary school, the nonprofit began to work with the Moore County Schools.

Today, Prancing Horse works mainly with the public schools, which buses 20 to 25 students a day in morning and afternoon shifts, with each student visiting once a week for 90 minutes.

Forty volunteers, mainly retirees who typically live 20 miles away, work with the children each week, with each volunteer teamed with a particular child.

Services are free for students in the public schools, although Prancing Horse charges fees for roughly 15 private lessons a week and for 18 children, ages two to four, from Sandhills Children’s Center, each of whom visits one afternoon a week.

Three volunteers work with each of pre-school child, with one to lead the horse and one to walk on either side.

And riding can make a big difference in the children’s lives, says Mason, who founded and operates Horse and Buddy, a therapeutic-riding nonprofit in Apex, on Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings.

Children who attend Prancing Horse have a range of physical, emotional and behavioral problems such as autism, down syndrome, attention deficit disorder and cerebral palsy.

But riding a horse, whose movements simulate the natural gait of a person, can help children address their problems, and build their confidence and self-esteem, Mason says.

“These kids know they’re different,” she says. “This is the one thing they can excel at, and their normal peers may not be able to ride a horse.”

Some children have walked or talked for the first time through participation in the riding program, she says.

Prancing Horse last year raised $110,000, a shortfall of $10,000 that it covered by selling stocks in a small mutual fund account.

Of the total, the group raised $50,000 from private donations, $18,000 from grants and $35,000 through special events, including the Southern Pines Area Horse Farm Tour and providing food service at local horse-show competitions.

With 3,000 individual donors, mainly living in Moore County and giving in response to two direct-mail appeals each year, the nonprofit this year is working to encourage donors to make larger annual gifts and to consider gifts through their estate planning to its new Prancing Horse Endowment that is housed at the North Carolina Community Foundation.

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