Ride with Pride: A Staunton, Virginia Non-Profit Embracing Healing Through Horses


In the heart of our community, a local non-profit organization is quietly making a monumental impact on the lives of children with special needs. This is the story of Ride with Pride, a sanctuary where the therapeutic power of horseback riding nurtures the soul for children with special needs. In the countryside of Staunton, Virginia, this non-profit organization promotes hope and healing through horses.

The backdrop for these transformative experiences is Cedar Creek, a serene expanse where equine nutritionist Melanie Werth ensures that every horse—the heartbeat of the program—is a picture of health and vitality. Her dedication, supported by the local community’s generosity, ensures that the therapy provided transcends the physical, touching lives deeply and holistically.

By embracing the healing power of horses, this innovative program goes beyond conventional therapy methods, offering a unique and transformative experience for its participants.

The journey of each rider at Ride with Pride is guided by Carolyn Meyer, the program director whose passion and vision leads the organization’s mission. Building upon a storied legacy that began in 1989, Carolyn’s leadership is a continuation of the founders’ dream—where the bond between horse and human sparks transformative experiences for individuals with special needs. From caring for these majestic animals to saddling them up and learning to ride, each step in the process becomes a stepping stone toward healing and growth.

Observing the program in action, it’s evident that the magic lies in the unspoken connection between the children and the horses. The participants, many of whom may struggle with communication in traditional settings, find solace and a unique form of expression in their equine companions.

One remarkable story within the program revolves around a horse named Frej. Despite being blind, Frej stands as one of the most cherished and vital members of the therapy herd. His resilience and ability to connect with the children, guiding them through the challenges of life, serve as a powerful metaphor for the strength that resides within each participant.

“My Blind Knabstrupper” – Frej’s Story

Written by owner of Frej and Ride with Pride board member, Sophia Martina Bryant

This is the story of Frej, a Knabstrupper horse, and our journey together. I worked at Cedar Creek Stables, where Dr. Melyni Worth bred Knabstruppers. Frej, imported from Denmark, was initially sold as a jumper but ended up back at Cedar Creek due to mistreatment. Despite being labeled “dangerous,” Frej was actually gentle and kind.

Our partnership grew as we participated in events like jumping and dressage. In 2016, Frej was diagnosed with Recurrent Uveitis, a condition affecting his eyes. His left eye eventually went blind. Dr. Stoneburner recommended a cyclosporine implant at Virginia Tech, hoping to save his remaining sight. The surgery went well, but complications arose after a routine Lepto vaccine, causing a severe flare-up that destroyed Frej’s left eye, rendering him completely blind.

Despite this setback, Frej adapted quickly to his blindness. In collaboration with Virginia Tech, we conducted tests to understand the unexpected reaction to the vaccine. Frej’s experience led to changes in the vaccine’s label, cautioning against its use in horses with Uveitis.

Life went on, and we adjusted to our new reality. Frej, now retired from dressage, became a therapy horse, bringing joy to others. Despite the challenges, our journey reflects perseverance, determination, and love. Frej’s story is not one of sadness but of overcoming obstacles. With the support of friends, family, and especially Dr. Stoneburner, we faced the challenges together. I hope Frej can be an advocate for blind horses, proving that blindness isn’t the end, and his experiences contribute to finding a cure for Uveitis.

As the children engage in grooming, cleaning, and saddling the horses, a sense of responsibility and accomplishment fills the air. Carolyn Meyer, the program director, notes that it’s not just about riding; it’s about the entire process. The kids learn empathy, patience, and teamwork. She described how incredible it is to witness the transformation as they open up during these sessions.

The program operates in six-week sessions, three times a year, during spring, summer, and fall. Participants attend one-hour lessons each week, although the joy often extends the sessions beyond the allotted time. Carolyn Meyer emphasizes the importance of the structured schedule, and explained that the consistency of the program is key to building trust and creating a safe space for the kids. They have seen remarkable progress in their confidence and social skills through the program.

Some of the challenges faced by the program is the potential expansion into a winter session. Meyer expresses the desire to continue the therapeutic benefits year-round but acknowledges the difficulty due to the cold weather. She also explained that with a limited budget, they have to be very mindful of where the financing goes in regards to upgrading equipment for the programs. Most of the funding for the program goes toward the care of the horses as they are the most important piece to the program.

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