Riding with purpose.
Hope Whiting and Lindsey Mongeon sit up tall on their horses, tightening the reigns in their hands to round the sandy arena side-by-side with a little assistance from their instructor.
It takes a bit of patience for both 11-year-old Ormond Beach girls, since Mongeon is riding Annie, the larger of the two horses, but Whiting and her horse Berry catch on quick. The girls are practicing patterns for their upcoming show — Hope Reins Therapeutic Riding Program's "Show What You Know Day" celebrating its 10th-anniversary at Marcody Ranch on April 22.
Mongeon said they've recently switched their routine for the show, which she will be performing alongside Whiting.
“Now we’re doing a different pattern which involves weaving and trotting, which is pretty hard to do for a giant bulky horse," Mongeon said. "I’m constantly crashing in the bales — got to make really wide turns."
Both girls have been taking riding lessons with Hope Reins for about two years. The nonprofit provides these lessons to help rehabilitate children and adults with a wide range of physical, mental and emotional disabilities regardless of their ability to pay for the $40 lessons. Program Director Sherry Argenbright said it allows their riders to have a sport, which is good for the mind, body and soul.
“So they have something that’s just their own," Argenbright said.
Whiting's favorite thing about coming to Hope Reins is the horses. Her mom used to ride, and now she gets to do the same thing with one of her best friends.
“It’s really weird because I only rode by myself, but I’m so excited that Lindsey and me are going to be riding together in it," Whiting said.
The girls' parents said attending Hope Reins has made positive changes in their daughters. Both said the girls have improved their balance and given them self-confidence. Mongeon's mother Amy said her daughter used to go to occupational therapy because she had trouble writing, but the riding lessons have not only improved her core, but helped her in that aspect as well.
“It’s been good physically and emotionally for her,” Amy Mongeon said.
Cindy Whiting, Hope Whiting's mother, said her daughter had trouble riding a bike at age nine, and within a month of taking riding lessons, she was able to jump on her brother's bike and take off. She said Hope Whiting has always loved animals, and riding lessons have only strengthened that love.
“For her to be able to experience the same things I did, it’s such an accomplishment for her with her background to be able to do this," Cindy Whiting said. "She just shines.”
The upcoming show is also a fundraising opportunity for Hope Reins. The money raised, along with the community partnerships, will help provide scholarships for riders who need extra monetary support. Aside from that, Argenbright said their goal is to have a covered arena on the ranch to help shelter the riders from bad weather and to provide shade during the hot summer, which will help them with their heat-sensitive riders.
It's also an opportunity for their riders to show off in front of their families. This will be Lindsey Mongeon's first show and Hope Whiting's second, and they're going to give it all they got.
“We’re always happy when they watch us," Hope Whiting said.