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The Hanson Center is a non-profit, self-funded program under the Ray Graham Association (RGA), which offers therapeutic horseback riding for children and adults with disabilities and recreational programs for children and adults with and without disabilities. It is located in the middle of a suburban residential area in Burr Ridge, IL. and is one of the few well-established centers with therapeutic horseback riding programs in the state of Illinois. The P.A.T.H. (Professional Association for Therapeutic Horseback riding) organization sponsors assessments and issues certificates to THR instructors. The training program is offered at multiple facilities including academic learning, experiential learning and skills to design classes with clear goals. Instructors are also encouraged to have 20 hours or continuing education or experience each year to renew their knowledge as instructors. Hanson Center is one of the few facilities with premier credits admitted by the PATH.
Hanson Center started out as the Farm Club in the 1960’s as a dairy farm. The farmers created this club for their disabled children in the first place so that they can help with planting and feeding animals on the farm.
Over time, the RGA found out about this place and thought that the idea of the Farm Club combined with THR would be a good relationship and acquired this area to finally become Hanson Center. The name Hanson is dedicated to the lady who donated 3 acres of personal property to this program at that time.Till today, Hanson Center runs a day program in the Great Hall mentioned above which picks up cognitively disabled people and get them involved in community and farm work. But for a long time, patients could only ride horses outdoors and therapy sessions had to pause during winter. There was one patient named Marcia who always got really upset when they had to take the winter break. After she passed away, her parents decided to donate the funding for Hanson Center to build indoor offices, barns and horse-riding arena with complete heating system to memorize her. Marcia’s place was built in 2000 and became the major part of the Hanson Center where most therapy sessions take place today.
Staff & Facility
This facility covers 12 acres of land and is consists of a great hall, indoor riding arena and stable, horse pastures, a small animal farm, the Funk Memorial Garden, and an 11,000 square-foot, fully accessible playground. There are two full-time and one part-time administrative staff that run the office. Animal caretakers work in shifts to take care of the animals and the facilities. Other than these employees, Hanson Center’s operation heavily depends on the contribution from volunteers. More than 1500 volunteers have help at the center every week. The volunteers assist instructors in lessons, bond with patients, and help with animal care taking. An orientation is required to demonstrate the volunteers how basic skills to work with a horse and to protect the student during a lesson.
Although under the umbrella of the RGA, Hanson Center is a completely independent center that operates itself and receives no funding from the RGA. The entire facility, including the animals, costs about $400,000 to maintain each year and all this money comes entirely from its own budget. Hanson Center’s main channel of income is the tuition from the therapeutic horseback riding lessons as well as private lessons that instructs people on general horseback riding (the TRH is not covered by insurance for families). The center also takes privately owned horses in their barns and offers good care at a price. Other than this, one of the staff members would travel across the country and give speeches to raise funds. Hanson Center receives a few large large-amount donations annually from different organizations, but this income is unstable and often times donated to be scholarships for students/patients. On the other hand, volunteers and staff also prepare small events such as cookie dough sale and calendar/T-shirt sales to collect more funds.
Policy & Classes
Hanson Center currently has a 2-year waitlist for people wanting get into its THR program. On a chronological order, once a spot opens, the following person would be filled up. Once the person gets the spot, there is no time limit as long as they can pay for the tuition in time. In other words, patients don’t get forced out of the therapy once they get into it. The student with the longest therapy experience has been coming into Hanson Center for 15 years and still counting. There is also a scholarship coming from occasional donations for patients that are making great progress but experiencing financial difficulties. The instructor and the program coordinator will evaluate and decide who earns this scholarship. The lessons are charged by sessions of 40 days (therapy sessions are not scheduled every day) and the price varies by the class size. Usually, private lessons are the most efficient and semi-private lessons (2-people class) are more suitable for older patients. To be enrolled in the THR program at the center, the student has to take the rider assessment so that instructors can design suitable lessons and arrange needed volunteers in advance.
For each lesson, the patient will be instructed to complete movements on the horse of different difficult level by the instructor, while the horse keep walking around the indoor arena. There is one volunteer leading the horse and one to three volunteers on the sides of the student to help and keep he/she safe. There are many props inside the arena for the instructors to create a site suitable for certain lessons. Each section lasts for 30-60 minutes and sometimes they spend extra time outdoors on the horse to practice new skills.
Hanson Center doesn’t advertise itself because first, they have enough publicity in the area (within 2 hours-drive from the facility) to keep business; second, there is no extra funding for advertising. The RGA website has Hanson Center listed as one of their services and the local community office also has their name on the activity board. But the spread of words is the best publicizing tool that Hanson Center has around the area. One of the administrative members will go on trips to give speeches not only to attract donors but also to spread the words of Hanson Center to be more recognized as a THR program.
Special Olympics is funded through the Kennedy Foundation that is specifically for individuals with cognitive disabilities. Every year, Hanson Center would pick out a team of about 19 athletes who ride and compete with other athletes across the state of Illinois for two days at the end of October. If the riders win the state game they can go on to the national game and even attend the official world game. If so, the athletes would have to bring their own horses to the competition. This event has been a tradition to the Hanson Center since the late 1990’s. Every year along with this event, staff would sell cookies and T-shirts with Hanson Center logos on for fund raising.
About the Horses
Therapeutic riding horses are picked among many breeds of horses. Instead of buying ponies and training them, instructors pick out older horses (between 8 and 14) with calmer and tolerant characteristics for therapeutic use. Because older horses have more experience with dealing with people and are more mentally stable to cooperate with instructors as well as safer to interact with children. The size and body shape of these horses also varies in a wide range. The width and height almost vary between each therapeutic horse to satisfy patients with different physical disabilities and different ages.
Also, depending on the different training goal of each lesson, instructors pick out different horses as well. For example, the horse choice might vary for the same student if the goal was to help exercise the core muscle or to gain more body balance control. These horses don’t retire until 20. One of the horses has worked here for more than 12 years. They would stay indoors during class time. At freer day times, they would be let outside in the arena to move around and get fresh air.
These horses are picked out at normal markets where people look for personal horses. Sometimes organizations and individuals will donate one or two horses to the center as a gift or dedication. There is a full time worker to take care of the horses all seasons including cleaning the barns and feeding them. The food comes from local farmers. Hanson Center would by the surplus plants and fruit that didn’t get sold at a lower price and have them ship it over fresh every day.
Other Animals on Site
Other than the horses, there are also 8 cats on the farm, 1 piglet, 2 guinea pigs, several goats, chickens and turkeys outside by the Farm Club.