ROCKFORD, Mich. (WZZM) -- Many children with special needs never get to learn outside the classroom, much less on a horse. Wednesday, that all changed at the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding in Rockford.
The Saddle Safari Discovery Trail is a one mile-long horse riding trail built by Baudville's employees.
The ribbon cutting was Wednesday evening, but first was the personal story from one local family. Johnny Agar's son Jeff has cerebral palsy. They also took the first ride on the trail. ESPN crews are in town to film their story.
Earlier in the day, WZZM set out on the trail to learn why it's designed to help change lives.
The horses at Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding already bring joy. But inside the center is all 160 children with special needs have ever known. There's four solid floors and a dirt floor. Now the doors are wide open, and the floor?
"We have gravel, we have wood chips, we have grass," said Executive Director Cathy Ryan.
WZZM 13's Stacia Kalinoski saddled up to learn why it's therapeutic for children with autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, cancer, brain injuries and more.
The Secret Pine Trail, one of 10 stops, speaks for itself.
"To feel the wind blow, to listen to the wind in the leaves, to even feel the rain drops is just a totally different experience than being under a roof," said Marci Devries, equine program coordinator.
In the Secret Pine Trail are some of the 250 trees. Ryan says some kids who live in the city have never really experienced nature.
"To make the kids feel like they are in their own little world," said DeVries. But another crucial part of therapy are sound and hand-eye coordination.
"If you start from the third one from the right, you have a perfect Mary had a Little Lamb," said Ryan.
"Sounds can be scary, but in this case, it's them causing the sound," said DeVries.
We've barely trotted the surface to discover it's truly a Discovery Trail that employees hope will change the lives of hundreds of children.
There are also carriages along the trail to serve the kids who cannot ride horses. The carriages are designed so wheelchairs can ride up them.
The center hopes to serve dozens more children with this trail, so they are looking for more volunteers. Call 616-866-3066 to volunteer.