Montgomery Area Nontraditional Equestrians’ (MANE) unique therapies rooted in horseback riding are often just the ticket for rehab and recovery.
Montgomery Area Nontraditional Equestrians (MANE) is a non-profit organization formed in 1994 that provides safe and effective therapeutic horseback riding opportunities to children as young as 4, and adults of all ages. Through a wide variety of programs, MANE serves people with emotional, physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities, as well as at-risk youth andadults from programs including Boys and Girls Clubs, Transformation Montgomery, Second Chance Foundation, Chemical Addictions Program (CAP), Lanier High School and Valiant Cross Academy. “Our motto is ‘MANE, a place where horses change lives,’ and that is so true. What these animals do is absolutely amazing,” said Tiffany Atkinson, Program Director for MANE. “There’s an energy between the horse and the rider, and an energy the horse absorbs. Parents are brought to tears watching how different their child is on and off a horse.”
Adults, too, feel the connection. Atkinson recalls talking with a participant, an older veteran suffering from PTSD. She remembers how excited and comforted he was to be at MANE every week. “I don’t have to talk to these horses – They know what I’m feeling,” he told her.
The staff at MANE evaluates each participant’s unique needs to find a program suited for their age, ability and skills. Therapeutic horseback riding can help individuals improve balance, range of motion and muscle control, as well as develop more efficient motor planning while strengthening muscles, joints and tendons. Instruction may include ground work, grooming and tacking as well as riding. “Some lessons are from the ground – how to move the horse only using body language – and that is really a confidence builder for some,” said Chandalyn Chrzanowski, MANE’s Equine Director and Lead Instructor. “It teaches them how to stand up straight and be confident in giving an answer, understanding mechanics, looking a person or a horse in the eye. Riding teaches balance, how to be assertive and how to ask for additional help or independence.”
In addition to the physical benefits, cognitively or emotionally challenged riders can experience improved concentration, patience, self-discipline, motivation and interpersonal skills. There also is a social aspect. “Participants interact with other children, the horse, the instructors,” Chrzanowski said. “We work hard to try to pair volunteers and horses with the correct students. That makes it a more rewarding experience for everyone. They might talk to someone for the first time or try a skill for the first time. There’s so much confidence- building involved in it.”
MANE is a fully accredited Premier Riding Center through the Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), and all instructors are certified by PATH Intl. PATH Intl. is a regulatory agency that assures stringent standards for quality therapeutic horseback riding through instructor certification, site accreditation and program monitoring. “We are a Premier Accredited center, and there are only five in Alabama,” Atkinson said. “That’s incredible to have right here in the River Region. MANE serves so many in the community and provides worthwhile volunteer and outreach opportunities.”
MANE serves around 90 riders on a weekly basis and also hosts hundreds of tri-county K12 students for field trips and service learning days. MANE has three 10-week sessions a year. Cost is $300 per student per session, but scholarships are available, generally ranging from 25 to 75 percent.
Horses for the program are carefully selected for what is a physically and mentally demanding job. Only between 5-10 percent of horses screened are accepted. MANE provides between 7,000-9,000 volunteer hours in the community each year, including internships for university students and professionals. For each MANE participant, generally three volunteers are required – one to lead the horse and two sidewalkers.
MANE has held a 501(c)3 status since 1994 and operates solely off of fundraisers, grants and donations. They hold two major fund raisers – Raise the Roof, a party featuring a live band and fresh Wintzell’s seafood every October and Course for Hope, a golf tournament and live auction held every two years. They also rely on corporate sponsors for the events and other businesses that provide assistance throughout the year. “MANE provides a unique opportunity for individuals to receive therapy that is unlike any other in our area,” said Brooke Rollan, Community Relations and Foundation Coordinator for MAX Credit Union, which is an annual donor. “MAX is proud to support MANE as they continue to make an impact on children and adults.”
Michael W. Hart, Market President for Regions Bank echoed Rollan. “At Regions, one of our core values is ‘make life better. Our affiliation with and support of MANE makes that commitment easy,” he said. “When you see their facility, meet their team of volunteers and staff, and see the faces of those being served there can be no doubt that they are indeed making life better for all with whom they interact.”
Good Deeds Done Right
In 2017, MANE was recognized with a River Region Ethics in Business & Public Service Award in the Non Profit / Public Agency category. This is a program of The Samaritan Counseling Center, Inc. in collaboration with Auburn University Montgomery’s School of Business and School of Sciences to bring the importance of business and public service ethics to the forefront to honor those individuals and companies that practice and believe in good ethics. “The staff, volunteers and Board members are just so humbled by it. MANE definitely couldn’t have won the Ethics award without the volunteers, supporters in the community and devoted parents.”
Information Transport Solutions, Inc. spread some holiday cheer last year, supporting both Toys for Tots and the Merry Wood Lodge in Elmore, as part of its annual charitable giving. ITS provided gift donations to Toys for Tots and donated a flat screen television to the Homestead Unit at Merry Wood Lodge in Elmore, a 124-bed skilled nursing center that provides rehabilitative care, dementia care, and long-term care to citizens in the River Region. “Everyone at ITS was excited about the donations and glad to contribute. Our hope is that these gifts put a smile on the faces of those touched by our giving,” said ITS CEO Steve Meany.
The Alabama Power Foundation recently awarded seven Elevate grants to nonprofit organizations across the state, including Family Promise of Montgomery. The Elevate grant program empowers organizations by providing funds for community-centered projects, hosting capacity-building workshops and providing networking opportunities within the nonprofit community. Each grantee received a $10,000 grant in 2017 and a $5,000 challenge grant in 2018 and will participate in at least one workshop to help them grow and find ways to expand their positive impact in the community.
Looking for a way to do some good in your community? You don’t have to have experience to volunteer – MANE staff will help train you. There are also opportunities for volunteers to provide other services, anything from office assistance to event planning to grounds work. For more information, visit maneweb.org.