Ruby Weeks, 7, and Molly Weeks, 5, of Irvine, giggle as they give Benny the horse a kiss as part of the J.F. Shea Center’s annual “Drive to Ride” campaign. The sisters ride together at the center. Photo: Allison Jarrell
Ruby Weeks, 7, and Molly Weeks, 5, of Irvine, giggle as they give Benny the horse a kiss as part of the J.F. Shea Center’s annual “Drive to Ride” campaign. The sisters ride together at the center. Photo: Allison Jarrell

By Allison Jarrell

Each year, the J.F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center, a San Juan Capistrano-based nonprofit, poses the following question—is there a collective drive in the community to help people with disabilities ride horses?

If past years are any indication, there certainly is. And “Drive to Ride” campaign organizers are hoping this year is no different.

Now in its seventh year, the J.F. Shea Center’s month-long fundraiser aims to provide financial aid for the center’s riders and horse care.

Each day, the nonprofit works to improve the lives of people with disabilities through therapeutic horse-related programs. The center is a privately-funded 501(c)(3) that addresses over 60 different physical and cognitive disabilities and serves over 850 clients each year.

Campaign organizer Sonya Violette said “Drive to Ride” is an important fundraiser for the center, as 80 percent of their clients are on some form of financial aid. This year, the drive features 83 success stories written by therapy riders, parents and volunteers. The center invites friends, family and the public to go online, read stories from each “team,” and select a few they wish to support.

The goal for the entire campaign, ending on March 4, is to raise $125,000. As of Feb. 23, the drive had raised more than $75,000. Violette said last year, about $98,000 of the $125,000 raised came from the riders’ families alone.

Last week marked the drive’s annual “kissing booth week,” where a miniature horse named Benny allowed children to come up and give him a smooch for a dollar. The booth is a hit each year due to generous donations—Benny brings in about $10,000 of the center’s funds.

Violette said the center’s programs are unique because their equine-based therapy offers riders the opportunity to progress both physically and mentally at an accelerated rate.

“If you ride a stationary bike you maybe get 30 repetitions in a 45 minute session,” Violette said. “On a horse, you get over 3,000. So you can see that rapid kind of growth. And it takes the brain 20,000 repetitions to remember something, so you can see how much faster you can get there on a horse.”

“It’s not just horseback riding,” Violette continued. “The horses do so many great things, not just physically, but also for building relationships and trust.”

To read all of the riders’ stories, visit the Shea Center’s website at www.sheacenter.org and click on “Drive to Ride” in the upper right corner.

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