This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue Our State Motto: Salus populi suprema lex esto, “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.” “Sneekers feels like trotting today!” Anna exclaimed, her face lighting up. This was atypical, for both horse and rider. The horse, Sneekers, had a breathing issue called heaves and preferred to walk most days. Anna, an eleven-year-old girl with autism, innately understood the horse’s struggle. She had refused to trot him the entire time she’d been riding with Sunny Oak Equine Assisted Activities at Rocheport, until that particular day, when—without being told the horse was feeling better—the little rider knew intuitively that Sneekers was ready to trot. So was she, and off they went. Heartwarming stories like this, of the unspoken bond between horse and rider, are common at Sunny Oak Farm, the nonprofit riding center that is home to Sunny Oak Equine Assisted Activities. Riding centers are educational equestrian facilities dedicated to giving people a chance to interact with, ride, and show horses. The director is Rosy Erganian, a therapeutic riding instructor since 1998 who is certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. She offers lessons, camps, and a wide variety of engaging activities for riders of all abilities. Most of the riders at Sunny Oak receive funding through Boone County Family Resources, and the rest comes from private donations.

Rosy jumps her horse Petey over a vertical jump.
Therapeutic equine-assisted activities are supervised interactions with horses that help people with conditions like autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, depression, and multiple sclerosis, among others. These activities can include adaptive riding lessons and other engaging options that even nonriders can enjoy such as games and crafts, and grooming, decorating, and leading the horses. Research studies published by the National Institutes of Health show that the act of riding a horse mimics the movements of a human’s walk, easing muscles and providing physical relief in riders of all ages and conditions. Riders gain balance, flexibility, coordination, and confidence over time. Even simply interacting with a horse (petting and brushing, for example) can reduce stress and anxiety levels. For those with special needs like Anna, who enjoyed riding there for over three years while growing up, Sunny Oak is a place where everyone can experience the healing that horses have to share. Open from mid-March through October, Sunny Oak Farm hosts a spring charity show every year. In July and August, the riding facility holds three recreational and therapeutic week-long day camps for children between the ages of six and thirteen, covering basic horsemanship and ending with a fun show for all kids to demonstrate skills learned during the week.
From left, Ginger Owen, Amelia, and Hannah Wise work with Petey during a therapy session last summer. Since the beginning of the pandemic, all staff wear masks.
Rosy has known about the healing power of horses her whole life. Riding since she was a child, she has also served as a special needs teacher at Woodhaven Learning Center and a riding instructor at Stephens College. Combining her personal and professional experiences, Rosy learned to channel the horses’ healing powers through riding therapy. Harnessing that depth of knowledge, she founded the nonprofit Sunny Oak Equine Assisted Activities in 2015. Amidst the gently rolling hills near Rocheport, Sunny Oak’s green pastures are home to eleven working therapy horses, two retired rescue horses (Blaze and Jam, whom Rosy calls “greeters and entertainers”), and a spunky miniature donkey named Timothy. Fondly recalling her favorite memories of Sunny Oak’s riders, Rosy’s voice resonates with her love of the horses and her passion for helping people. She shies away when asked to speak about her own contribution. She focuses instead on the good that the horses do for the riders who come to Sunny Oak Farm. Though she coordinates operations and leads all the lessons, Rosy is about as humble as they come. “I’m not the teacher,” she says. “The horses are really the teachers. It’s about setting the riders up and letting them get something out of the horse. It’s between them and that horse.” Learn more about Sunny Oak Farm and Sunny Oak Equine Assisted Activities, whom they help, and how to get involved at TheSunnyOakFarm.com. Photos // Sunny Oak Equine Assisted Activities