AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) — Great Oak has been providing equine-assisted activities to people in and around Aiken County for more than 20 years. Helping people like five-year-old Jaiden Anderson gain a new lease on life. Jaiden has autism and started working with Great Oak during the summer. “Since he has been riding with us, his speech as taken off,” Director of Great Oak Nicole Pioli told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk.
Shawn caught up with staff members working with Jaiden following multi-step directions — including guiding the horse left and right and asking it to stop.”So therapeutic riding has definitely been a part of Jaiden’s progress over the last three months,” she added.
The 5-year-old is working with a horse called Quarter Pounder. It’s just one of the six “GO” ponies the organization uses. With riders ages 4 to 77, there are a number of programs offered not just for children. “About 60 percent do fall under the age of 18 but the other 40 percent are older, Pioloi shared. “We had a new program started called Silver Saddles and that was to meet the needs of the community for our older residents,” she added.
Because everyone’s needs are different, all of the programs are not focused on therapeutic riding. “Some of our participates benefit from doing groundwork with the horses which is the interaction and that really helps improve their bond with not only horses but other humans as well,” she stated.
Right now, riders pay anywhere between $10 and $40 per lesson. The organization received a $20,000 donation from the Aiken Charity Horse Show on Wednesday. That, we’re told, will provide scholarships to help keep folks like Jaiden in the saddle when they need it the most. “It is an amazing experience here at Great Oak every single day. We are making an impact in people’s lives and it’s not only the humans but the horses are really doing the work.”
Meanwhile, Friday, October 11 – Sunday, October 13, Great Oak Equine Assisted Programs will bring four Augusta Stars Special Olympic Athletes to Gainesville, Georgia for the State Equestrian Games.
This will be the first time that the Augusta Stars Special Olympics team will be represented at the Equestrian State Games. The Augusta Stars formed in 1995 and currently serves more than 120 athletes throughout the entire CSRA. Other State Competitions that the Augusta Stars participate in include: Winter Games, Summer Games, Masters Bowling, Kayaking, Tennis, and Fall Games.
Great Oak has hosted the training for the fourth athletes over the last three months thanks to a generous grant from the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund. Great Oak will be traveling with two “GO” Ponies and four Special Olympics Certified Volunteers.
The August Stars horse and rider teams will be showing in English Equitation and the Working Trail.
This is the 29th year for State Equestrian Games and it will be held at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center. This year they are expecting 300 athletes, 140 horses and 225 volunteers.
Also, Great Oak will be hosting the Charity Barn Tour in the Aiken Historic District on Saturday, October 12 from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. You can visit greatoakeap.org for more information.