Chester County is well known for its vibrant, diverse equine community. Olympic caliber equestrians call the region home and it regularly hosts world class events like Plantation Field International Horse Trials and the Devon Horse Show. Horsemanship is ingrained in the county’s history and heritage and is an important element of the county’s sense of place and economy.
But horseback riding is not just a sport to be enjoyed by elite athletes, it is a beloved pastime that can be enjoyed by riders of all skill levels, abilities, and ages, and can even provide holistic medical benefits to those who participate.
According to PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship), riders with physical disabilities often show improvement in flexibility, balance, and muscle strength through working with horses. Therapeutic horsemanship can contribute to the cognitive, physical, emotional, and social well-being of individuals with disabilities.
Thorncroft Equestrian Center, a PATH Premier Accredited Center, serves approximately 300 riders per week out of its Malvern facility. They specialize in therapeutic horseback riding and other equine-assisted activities for children and adults with mental, emotional, and physical disabilities.
One of the things that makes Thorncroft special is that it is a mainstreaming facility where individuals of all abilities ride, learn, and relate to one another. About half of the center’s students have special needs.
"We organize riders into groups based on their riding ability, regardless of whether or not they are riding for therapeutic reasons," says Mikaela Potrako, a development associate at Thorncroft.
Potrako, like many of her fellow staff members, started out riding and volunteering at the center for many years before eventually serving in a professional capacity. She says Thorncroft is one of those special places that people never want to leave once they visit.
New riders are welcome throughout the year, regardless of experience.
"We have wonderful mentors and teachers that offer mounted and unmounted experiences," says Potrako. "Our main goal is to keep everyone safe and set them up for success."
Many students begin their Thorncroft experience in the unmounted lesson program while they wait for a spot to open in the mounted classes while others choose to stay in the program if it is a better fit for their needs and goals. Unmounted students learn the basics of ground horsemanship including grooming, lunging on a line and general horse care. Thorncroft instructors developed the unmounted program during the pandemic when it was difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance during mounted lessons, and the program’s popularity has taken off since then.
Mounted riders will typically start with a one-on-one private lesson with an instructor with aids available for help if needed. Once they master the basics of steering, walking, and trotting, they have the option to enter a semi-private or small group lesson.
Thorncroft is also known for its first responders and veterans program. These riders are given full scholarships to participate in a 6-week foundational course and weekly lessons.
Although Thorncroft is one of the largest therapeutic riding venues in the region, there are other facilities in the Chester County that also specialize in different kinds of therapeutic experiences.
"We have a great network of therapeutic riding centers throughout the region," says Potrako. "We are always happy to refer people to other places that might be a better fit for their abilities and needs. It's all about our shared passion for horses."
2045 Union Hill Road
Malvern, PA 19355
1800 Art School Road
Chester Springs, PA 19425
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Glenmoore, PA 19343
8 Abbott Lane
Coatesville, PA 19320
814 West King's Highway
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113 Crestwood Road
Landenberg, PA 19350
190 Line Road
Malvern, PA 19355
461 Cann Road
West Chester, PA 19382