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EFMP partners with Hearts & Hooves for day of horsing around

Male and female adults lead children on horseback around a dirt riding ring enclosed with a wooden fence.

Hearts & Hooves volunteers lead children from Little Rock Air Force Base’s Exceptional Family Member Program around the riding ring during a special event at the therapeutic riding center in Sherwood, Arkansas, March 23, 2019. The EFMP provides support to military family members with special needs, and it includes a variety of personnel, medical and family support functions.

One female adult and four children play on the grass in front of a building.

Families from the Exceptional Family Member Program at Little Rock Air Force Base play games during an event held at Hearts & Hooves Therapeutic Riding Center in Sherwood, Arkansas, March 23, 2019. The EFMP provides support to military family members with special needs, and it includes a variety of personnel, medical and family support functions.

Children and adults line up behind a white chain to ride horses.

Families from the Exceptional Family Member Program at Little Rock Air Force Base line up at the riding ring to ride horses at Hearts & Hooves Therapeutic Riding Center in Sherwood, Arkansas March 23, 2019. The EFMP provides support to military family members with special needs, and it includes a variety of personnel, medical and family support functions.

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE, Ark. --

On a sunny, warm, spring day, families from the Exceptional Family Member Program at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, met at Hearts & Hooves Therapeutic Riding Center, located in the countryside near the base. There, families experienced a unique partnership forged between the base, the center, and the horses that live and work there.

Hearts & Hooves, located in Sherwood, Arkansas, serves individuals with special needs, at-risk children, and veterans through companionship with horses. Led by Michele Easter, executive director, they promote independence through therapeutic riding and equine-facilitated learning to enrich the lives of everyone participating at the farm.

On March 23, Easter, her staff, and a farm full of volunteers hosted a special EFMP event that included a Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department display, bouncy house, games, refreshments and rides on the center’s horses.

A close up of two brown horses, one in stall behind bars, and the other standing outside of it facing the other.
Two of Hearts & Hooves Therapeutic Riding Center’s horses wait their turn to provide rides to Exceptional Family Member Program members from Little Rock Air Force Base during a special event March 23, 2019. Hearts & Hooves, located in Sherwood, Arkansas, serves individuals with special needs, at-risk children and veterans through companionship with horses and hosted the event in partnership with EFMP.
A close up of two brown horses, one in stall behind bars, and the other standing outside of it facing the other.
Horses chat while waiting to work
Two of Hearts & Hooves Therapeutic Riding Center’s horses wait their turn to provide rides to Exceptional Family Member Program members from Little Rock Air Force Base during a special event March 23, 2019. Hearts & Hooves, located in Sherwood, Arkansas, serves individuals with special needs, at-risk children and veterans through companionship with horses and hosted the event in partnership with EFMP.
Photo By: Tammy L. Reed
VIRIN: 230219-F-DL035-0003

“The horses offer a really unique learning opportunity because we generally relate better to animals than we do to people,” Easter said. “It’s a little less intimidating, so the children and others find it easier to learn to relate to a horse and to relax around a horse.”

 “That’s what we are looking for, that sense of calm and peace, and the horse teaches them that,” Easter added.

As some children and adults raced stick horses, ate burgers and socialized nearby, more children and their parents lined up down at the riding ring for their chance to ride horses named Bon Jovi, Peanut and Sam I Am, among others.

“These aren’t just regular horses on the farm,” said Steve Jones, Airman and Family Readiness Center EFMP coordinator. “These are trained animals, specifically trained to work with kids or anyone with special needs.

 “This is the first time we’ve done this. What we’re doing here today is a good opportunity for our families to have a good time with the horses at Hearts & Hooves,” he said.

His goal for the event was for the program’s families to come out, siblings together, and have fun without feeling many of life’s pressures.  

Easter said she was excited when Jones contacted her.

“We have volunteers from the base, and spouses of active duty that are employees here, but I’ve not had a partnership where we’ve done activities together before,” Easter said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

Emily Fortenberry recently moved to Little Rock AFB with her active-duty spouse and their two children. This was her first EFMP event in Arkansas.

“We are here to get out and meet other families that are dealing with what we are dealing with,” Fortenberry said. “It’s nice to have other people that have been on that same emotional level and can relate.”

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