Harford County Therapeutic Riding Center’s new director gallops into the future – Baltimore Sun
Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding, which provides therapeutic healing to adults and children by connecting them to horses and riding lessons, announced the hiring of Katy Santiff as its first program director. Santiff’s responsibilities will include overseeing and improving current programming as well as increasing the reach of Abingdon’s facility in the community.
Under Santiff’s leadership, Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding seeks to partner with the county for programs and become nationally accredited.
“As we continued to strive and thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic, it became very clear to our staff and board of directors that we needed a talented individual to guide our full-time programming” , said Cathy Schmidt, founder and executive director of Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding, in a press release. “We are experiencing an increased demand for services as families with children and adults with different abilities and diagnoses continue to seek additional means of suitable recreation and education. We had to look outside of our industry to find Katy and we’re sure her talent and experience will enhance everything we do.
Santiff, 40, grew up in a military family, spending much of her childhood on a small farm in southern Maryland. After a successful career in sales, marketing, and management, she entered the nonprofit world applying her experience and management skills at a behavioral health organization near Annapolis before joining Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding.
“I was looking for a way to reintegrate my love for horses with my passionate desire to continue helping people, and finding this opportunity was a way for me to do so both personally and professionally,” Santiff said in the statement. “The role of program director at CTR gives me the chance to continue to grow in an area that is close to my heart. It means the world to me, because I care about animals and people. Horses enhance our capacity for patience as we learn, heal and grow, our capacity to work for causes close to our hearts, our capacity for compassion and our capacity for resilience despite challenges – with horses these are unlimited.
Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding was founded in 2003 and is the premier horse discovery center in Harford County. Established by the Maryland Horse Industry Board in 2015, Horse Discovery Centers are a network of state-certified, volunteer farms that provide access to and experience with horses for the general public.
The nonprofit Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding is also the only year-round adaptive riding center in the county.
“It helps people physically, emotionally and spiritually because they gain confidence,” Santiff said. “They gain confidence because it’s very ingrained to work with big animals. Controlling a gigantic animal should help you gain confidence.
The center serves both children and adults living with a variety of physical and developmental disabilities, Santiff said. Among their adaptive riding population, about 40% of their participants are on the autism spectrum, Santiff said.
Others live with disabilities such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, sensory processing disorder, anxiety, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, Williams disease, Down syndrome, spina bifida, post-traumatic stress disorder and developmental delays, Santiff said. About 30% live with multiple diagnoses, Santiff said.
Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding selects horses based on age, temperament, size and medical history. Recently, a Morgan/Percheron Draft Horse and Draft Mule were added to accommodate taller riders, such as some military veterans. The smallest horse, Buttons, is a 200-pound Shetland pony who is well known in the community for visiting the Harford County Public Library for its summer reading series and other special events, Santiff said.
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“Our horses need to be virtually ‘bombproof’ and calm in a variety of situations,” said Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding program manager Megan Ferry. “When they first come to CTR, we work with them on desensitization to multiple situations such as loud noises, wheelchairs, lesson equipment, etc. Each horse has a different personality, and we carefully match them with clients we think are the most suitable match for them.
The program provides riding lessons and riding skills to improve the physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being of children and adults living with disabilities. It also hosts the Perry Point Veterans Administration, which brings in groups of veterans for recreation therapy, psychosocial rehabilitation, and recovery several days a week.
Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding has the Discovery Horses program for people who live with disabilities, which makes it difficult to ride and ride horses safely. In the program, they learn basic horse care like grooming, stall cleaning, how to spot and treat medical issues, how to feed a horse and what to feed them, Ferry said. Its vocational training program helps people with disabilities and those who are interested find potential jobs in the equestrian industry, Ferry said.
Currently, Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding is applying to become a premier accredited center through PATH, International, Schmidt said. PATH International is the professional association for therapeutic riding and leads the advancement of equine-assisted professional services by supporting its members through rigorously developed standards, certification and education, Schmidt said.
Since the county created a path that connects the Darlington Branch Library to the corner of the Harford County Equestrian Center and Agricultural Center property, the nonprofit has been trying to partner with the county to learn more about education and agriculture, Ferry said.
“We thought a bit and realized that this area had a lot to do with Maryland agriculture, and what better way to show it than by planting native Maryland crops and native Maryland plant species that help our pollinating wildlife. “Like bees, butterflies and birds,” Ferry said. “Plans are in place to build a section of raised bed to showcase the cultures that settlers and Indigenous nations cultivated to help sustain their families and economies. And we will plan a native pollinator meadow, full of trees, shrubs and flowering plants that attract our dwindling populations of bees, butterflies and birds to the area.