Grant Partner of the Week #6 | Saddle Up!




After years of racing, Tony Stewart knows one thing for certain: If you find a race strategy or setup that works, stick to it and find ways to make it even better! Saddle Up!, based in Nashville, TN, adheres to this same philosophy.


Saddle Up! has been providing life-changing equine-assisted activities and therapeutic riding for children since 1989. With an eye to the future, the newest goal is to secure funds to purchase a mechanical horse that kids like Emma Claire can ride inside during cold or bad weather. Having this back-up ‘horse’ insures that kids don’t lose skills and strengthening they gained in prior weeks.





Now an exuberant 6-year-old, Emma Claire arrived at Saddle Up! two weeks after her 3rd birthday and began riding immediately on a horse named Tex. Emma Claire was born prematurely at only 23 weeks in Paducah, Kentucky and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and sensory processing disorder – a condition in which the brain fails to properly receive and respond to sensory information. Emma Claire’s mom had grown up with horses and knew their healing powers; she knew that early intervention could make a significant impact in her daughter’s life.


At the time, Kentucky didn’t offer a hippotherapy program and all therapeutic riding programs required children to be at least four years old. The family made a decision and moved to Tennessee literally so that Emma Claire could join the hippotherapy program at Saddle Up! 


The progress that Emma Claire has made in 3 years is impressive. The repetitive movement of the horse’s stride helps her body stay strong and improves her gross motor skills. There have also been distinct improvements in her speech and even her handwriting after spending time on the horses. Today Emma Claire’s walking gait is much smoother, and her body is more flexible and fluid. The type of cerebral palsy that Emma Claire has causes a narrowing of the hips but she’s never developed that physical limitation that almost always requires surgery. Why? Her developmental pediatrician believes her equine therapy is a primary reason.


Emma Claire now rides twice each week and she’s reaching additional therapy goals much more quickly. A recent accomplishment? Emma Claire was able to use her new strength and coordination to jump and enjoy the sensation of one foot actually leaving the ground! That “jump” has so energized her that she practices all the time!



Saddle Up! Is a 34-acre farm near Franklin, TN providing year-round programs that make a positive difference for 250+ children every year. The therapeutic staff and volunteers provide services to help children managing more than 50 types of documented disabilities. Research indicates that horseback riding helps children with mobility challenges to gain increased balance, muscle control and strength. Children with cognitive challenges cam improve concentration, recognition, vocabulary and task completion. Bonding with a horse can improve personal relationships, instill patience and improve behavior among children with psychological and emotional disabilities.






Like the majority of kids at Saddle Up!, Emma Claire has formed lasting friendships. Riding is her sport and when ‘outside’ friends talk about their soccer games or dance classes, Emma Claire talks about her riding. Every week Emma Claire looks forward to working with her therapist alongside the horse and getting to see her friends – some of whom are non-verbal, some who are on the autism spectrum and others – like herself – who live with cerebral palsy. To Emma Claire, these kids are all “just kids” - her friends and she doesn’t see disabilities or diagnoses. 




While hippotherapy and therapeutic riding help heal Emma Claire’s body, it also boosts her overall confidence and has led to dramatic speech improvements. When the family first moved to Nashville, Emma Claire was a 3-year-old who struggled to put two syllables together. Today at age 6 she talks constantly and reads at a 3rd grade level! Emma Claire’s journey at Saddle Up! may have begun “with the hips” and has since moved “to the lips”! What seemed impossible has become reality – all because of a mother’s love for her child, the programs provided at Saddle Up!, the movement of a horse and the spirit of a child.






For more information about Saddle Up! visit: | FB @SaddleUpNashville | Twitter @saddleupnash



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