By Matt Miller email@example.com
JPEC focuses on engaging children and adults with mental and physical disabilities
Located just 20 miles outside Des Moines sits the Jester Park Equestrian Center (JPEC). While it may seem like a bit of a drive for some, employees and volunteers at the center says the distance is worth it because their efforts are bringing smiles and joy to those who need it most.
“Seeing the children and adults come out of their ‘shells’ by riding the horses is the most rewarding part,” said Carrie Spain, manager of the JPEC. “It’s great to see them accomplish their goals.”
The JPEC offers a variety of programs following its mission statement “to educate people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds about horses, natural resources and themselves.” The center has riding/driving lessons, wagon and sleigh rides, team building and more. One of the main components of the JPEC is its Exceptional Riders Programs, focused on engaging children and adults with physical and mental disabilities. Currently there are about 60 individuals who participate in the weekly therapy programs.
“The therapeutic riding program is a great opportunity for children and adults to have the opportunity to interact with these loving animals,” said Spain, a six-year employee of the JPEC. “Their first experience might not be riding the horses, but rather just petting them. It can build a lot of confidence in them to eventually go for a ride.”
The JPEC recently hosted the 2010 State Equestrian competition for approximately 60 horse-riding enthusiasts from Special Olympics Iowa. The all-day event included seven different events including horsemanship – walk only, Western or English horsemanship, egg and spoon, barrels, key hole race, ball drop, pole bending and baton relay.
The JPEC also aims to touch the lives of those at-risk. The program works with several different school districts in the area including Des Moines Public Schools, Johnston and Urbandale. Other programs that participate are ChildServe, Link Associates, On With Life and Polk County Youth Services.
“Many of the participants may not have a lot of experiences caring for somebody,” Spain said. “They are able to take care of the horses, and with that comes a sense of confidence and pride. The program can build their self-esteem.”
The JPEC has a full list of calendar events to round out 2010. On Saturday, Oct. 2, the center will host the Cancer Kickin Country Bash, a fund-raiser for the John Stoddard Cancer Center in Des Moines. The inaugural event begins at noon with trail riding, dancing, door prizes, a silent auction and a country meal. Country music artist Jason Brown will also perform.
“We’re very excited for the event because it not only will help those here, but also touch the lives of those affected by cancer,” Spain said. “It’s a great event for a great cause.”
On Oct. 29 and 30, the JPEC will host a Family Halloween and on Dec. 11 and 18, the center will host Santa Pony Rides.
Spain says all of the program offered at the JPEC are labor intensive, but luckily more than 30 volunteers assist on a daily basis, along with at special projects and events.
“We appreciate all the help that we receive from our numerous volunteers,” Spain said. “Without them, all these education opportunities wouldn’t be possible. They really are touching the lives of others.”
Locker Room note: The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Iowa Walk will take place on Saturday, Oct. 2 beginning at Water Works Park, 410 Fleur Drive. Registration begins at 8:30 and the 5K walk begins at 10:30 a.m. The event has a fund-raising goal of $125,000. For more information on fund-raising or participating, visit www.namiiowa.com. CV
Caption: The Jester Park Equestrian Center has a variety of programs for youth and adults throughout the year. Photo courtesy of JPEC