Jacobs Ladder Therapeutic Riding Center all started with a dream. Leslie Jacobs is the owner and founder. It began when Leslie discovered an article in a magazine one day about horse therapy as a way to help children with developmental disabilities. She had a family member that was struggling due to the loss of an eye, so she had an understanding of what a person with a physical handicap goes through. It taught her compassion for anyone struggling with a disability or impairment.
In December 1999, Leslie started Jacobs Ladder as a part-time job. At the time, she was a full-time teller at Park Avenue Bank in Valdosta. After four short years, she decided she wanted to devote herself to the riding center completely and gave up her job at the bank. Her heart was no longer in it. She had found something she enjoyed. “I always enjoyed horses and meeting people. So it’s the perfect combination.”
The riding center is home to fifteen horses and one pony, and they are looking for more horses who fit the criteria. They do accept donated horses but cannot take a horse over the age of 20 years. It helps if the horse has experience in competing in shows and is trained.
Her staff consists of herself and one other paid assistant/instructor who started out as a volunteer. Kristen Novack is an Assistant Instructor. She enjoyed it so much that she went to school and got her certification as an instructor. She now has a PATH International Registered Level Certification.
P.A.T.H stands for the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. It is the organization that sets all the standards by which Jacobs Ladder must adhere to. One of the major criteria is the age of the rider. Jacobs Ladder does not take riders under the age of four years old. The rider must be able to sit in the saddle and maintain their balance as they ride; most younger children aren’t able to do that.
Each young rider’s needs and goals are evaluated on an individual basis. Children who are under the treatment of an Occupational Therapist, are joined by the therapist during the riding session so that the O.T. can monitor the child and they can set goals and work to reach them. Jacobs Ladder provides all the equipment needed for the rider and even has a special shelf where all the therapeutic “toys” are kept in the barn. Among them are colorful rings, cubes, and balls for tossing, to name a few.
The barn has a particular tack room where equipment is stored. Each piece has a numbered tag which is associated with each horse. This allows everything to coordinate together on the horse that the rider is assigned to. Once the rider is finished with their session, which lasts from thirty minutes to an hour, the equipment can be placed back on the shelf in its assigned spot. It’s very organized, clean and neat and must be to keep the process flowing smoothly and efficiently when a rider arrives.
Some of the programs offered by Jacobs Ladder include school day riding programs, after-school programs, field trips, and birthday parties. They now have a program called Equine Services for Heroes designed for the treatment and therapy of military veterans, Wounded Warriors and active service men and women.
When asked about the mission of Jacobs Ladder Therapeutic Riding Center, Leslie responded, “Our mission is to provide equine-related activities to individuals with special needs. Children as young as four years old may participate, as well as, adults who desire to strengthen their physical body, build their self-esteem, gain a sense of independence, learn new skills, and make new friends.”
You might wonder how the riding center can cover the costs of running and maintaining their facility. Horses are very expensive to maintain and require a lot of attention to the grooming of their coat, their teeth, and their hooves. They also need specific vaccinations on a yearly basis. They have a particular diet that must be followed to maintain their health and prevent colic. A local foundation supports Jacobs Ladder, and they want to remain anonymous. They also accept donations from any individual who would like to donate. Mrs. Jacobs told me, “We started in faith, and we’re still working on faith. We have never had to go to a bank for a loan.”
If you are interested in the programs offered at Jacobs Ladder Therapeutic Riding Center, you can go to their Facebook page: Jacobs-Ladder-Therapeutic-Riding-Center-Inc. They are also on Twitter and Instagram: jacobsladder.leslie. You can also contact Leslie by telephone at 229-794-1188.