RICHMOND – Kali is a miniature horse with dwarfism named after the Hindu goddess of destruction. Friday morning, she was living up to her name.
The animal-assisted activities therapy class was wrapping up its eighth and final session at Main Stay Therapeutic Riding Program in Richmond with an activity where a group of four students and Kali had to make their way across the arena using islands made of hula hoops and pool noodles.
Pawing the ground the way horses do when they’re itching to roll, Kali didn’t stay on her island, nudging the noodles with her nose to make them roll.
The activity teaches the students – who come to Main Stay through a partnership with McHenry County College and the Special Education District of McHenry County’s Pathways program – teamwork among other practical life skills, Main Stay Executive Director Loriann Dowell said.
The animal-assisted therapy classes are a new addition to Main Stay’s operations along with the miniature horses, miniature mules, goats, sheep, bunnies and a guinea pig from the Light Center.
Main Stay acquired the other agency in May and moved the animals to temporary structures on its 40 acres in Richmond in November. The classes, which started Jan. 1, are the first ones to use the animals.
Main Stay hopes to build new stables and a riding arena to move the smaller animals into the stables, Dowell said. The sheds then will be used for a new gardening and horticulture component.
“Horses are our cornerstone,” she said. “Even without the animal-assisted program, we’ve outgrown our barn. We have 10 stalls and 13 horses.”
She also wants the new building to have classroom space. Classes currently meet in the tack room, which can cause issues when people are trying to get ready for riding lessons, said Ann Henslee, director of development and community outreach.
Main Stay will continue to offer its riding program for people with physical and developmental disabilities.
Danny Guelzo, 21, of Lake in the Hills, is ready to come back for that, he said. As part of the final session, he led a flaxen chestnut named Dolly through an obstacle course, weaving her through cones and stopping her with a calm “whoa” at the end.
“I like working with the animals,” he said. “They’re nice. They’re kind.”
Nontraditional therapy, such as what’s offered at Main Stay, can be more effective for harder-to-reach kids, Dowell said. Working with animals teaches them to recognize their own body language, how to connect and work as a team and patience.
“The walls are down the minute they hold a fuzzy little animal,” Henslee said.
Main Stay’s Black Tie and Blue Jean Gala is scheduled for 5:30 to 11 p.m. May 3 at Donley’s Village Hall Banquets, 8512 S. Union Road, Union. It will feature storyteller Jim May. The cost is $60 a person. For information or sponsorship, visit www.mstrp.org or call 815-653-9374.