- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

GLENMOORE, Pa. (AP) - Just about everyone has been impacted by a cancer diagnosis. Some have watched a loved one battle the chronic disease while others walked into a doctor’s office and had their life changed forever. An organization is using horses, peace and hope to heal families affected by the illness.

“Horse Power for Life is a non-profit located in Chester County. We offer a 16-week therapeutic horsemanship program for men, women and children diagnosed with cancer. Our goal is really to help them focus on their mind, body and soul rather than the disease,” said president and co-founder Shiree Radie.

In 2007, Radie and her co-founder both lost family members to cancer. They wanted to find a way to give back to the many people affected by the disease. About 40 percent of men and women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Radie did some research and found that a few non-profit organizations used horseback riding with cancer patients. Radie said studies have shown patients that experience a positive impact on their emotional state are more likely to stay in remission.

“When people are a survivor, a lot of times they start eating better, eating organic, eating anti-cancer foods and exercising more,” she said adding that the therapeutic horsemanship program is about emotional health.

The discounted program is available to cancer patients undergoing treatment and survivors in remission. People of all ages can participate. Radie said their youngest participant was four years old and the oldest was 75. Each participant is also allowed to invite one family member or friend to join the program as well.

“So we have a lot of little kids with leukemia that will invite a brother or sister. We have women with breast cancer that will invite a husband,” she said.

Over the years, more than 200 people from several areas have joined Horse Power for Life. The program is not a consecutive 16 weeks so students are able to spread out lessons to fit their schedule. The fee is $15 per every 1½ hour lesson but Radie said some families pay nothing.

“We’ve never turned away a family due to lack of funds and we never will,” she said.

Every year Horse Power for Life has a Jingle Fest fundraiser in December. Proceeds from the event go into the Theresa Alison Smyth Scholarship Fund which was named after a former student.

At 19, Smyth was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer that affects mostly younger women. When Smyth was 21 she started taking lessons through Horse Power for Life but passed away in 2010 before she was able to graduate.

“Her family knew how much she loved the program and they asked in lieu of flowers for the funeral to make donations to Horse Power for Life,” Radie said.

After that, a scholarship was created in Smyth’s name so students who couldn’t afford the $15 fee could still participate in Horse Power for Life.

Students that join the program have a say in how they would like to spend each week. Becca Smith is the riding instructor and said she customizes each lesson to the student. Some people really enjoy riding the horses but others just appreciate the peacefulness that comes with being around the horses and the barn, she said. Smith said the horses are really good for the students.

“It just so happens that they are very quiet and conducive to healing and just gentle interaction,” she said. “They are very loving, thought provoking kinds of animals.”

Smith has been riding horses since she was eight years old. As she got older, she realized she had a calling for teaching and that she loved to work with children. When her oldest daughter started riding horses, Smith began teaching horseback lessons at a barn.

Smith has a special bond with the students of Horse Power for Life because she was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007. Before her diagnosis, Smith hadn’t experienced any symptoms. She said a lot of people don’t realize colon cancer is a “quiet disease like pancreatic cancer” and urges people to get their recommended colonoscopy.

“I’m a poster child for colonoscopies. I went for my first colonoscopy at the age of 53 and I had stage three colon cancer,” Smith said.

After 10 months of chemotherapy, Smith was cancer free and is now a survivor. Unfortunately several years after her own diagnosis, she found out her husband had brain cancer. He had a very aggressive form of the cancer and died in 2011. After her husband died, Smith wanted to give back to the community. She asked herself what she was good at and came up with teaching, working with kids and riding horses. Soon after this self-realization, Smith received a call from Radie about a teaching position for Horse Power for Life.

“It literally came from heaven. It was just meant to be,” Smith said.

She said the teaching experience allows her to give something to the individuals and families that are going through a very difficult time.

“My ability to give back is just a blessing to me. It makes me feel good. You want to go to bed at night knowing that you changed somebody’s life for the better,” Smith said. “Patients and their families come to the program, sometimes extremely discouraged, and find that life is worth living,” Smith said.





Information from: The Mercury, https://www.pottsmerc.com

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