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Bearcat Therapeutic Riding

Our mission is to provide Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) to people with physical, cognitive and social-emotional disabilities by utilizing individualized, best-practice methods and techniques designed to promote the highest possible level of independence.

Bearcat Therapeutic Riding (BTR) began 

with two riders in the fall of 2009. We now provide a variety of EAAT programs to more than 30 children and adults in Greenwood, Abbeville, Laurens and adjacent counties. BTR is a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH, Intl.) member center with three PATH, Intl. registered instructors on staff.

BTR offers a variety of Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT). EAAT utilize the horse and its movement to effect change in a riders' physical, cognitive and social-emotional health. 


Why the Horse?

The movement of the horse at the walk is almost identical to the human walking pattern. For someone who has never experienced typical movement or has lost typical movement due to a stroke, head injury or other neurological disorder, the movement of the horse can activate the appropriate muscles needed for functional activities, while the warmth from the horse relaxes stiff, spastic muscles.

Disorganized sensory systems, as are found in autism, ADHD and most cognitive disorders, benefit greatly from the repetitive, rhythmic motion of the horse. This motion helps organize the sensory system, which then allows the rider to focus on specific activities and learn new skills. The gait of the horse can be varied to facilitate calm or increase alertness depending on the individual needs of the rider.

From a social-emotional standpoint, working with a horse astride or on the ground leading or grooming fosters self-confidence, teamwork, empathy, independence and patience. Opportunities abound for socialization with both the horses and volunteers who help with each program.

Adapted Horseback Riding

Adapted horseback riding is a form of equine-assisted activity in which adults and children with disabilities are taught how to ride a horse. Educational, recreational, sports and physical/cognitive goals may be incorporated into a riding session; however, the primary goal is to teach horsemanship skills. These lessons are taught in small groups of no more than four riders, and medical consent is required to participate (see Rider Forms).

Unmounted Horsemanship Classes

BTR's horsemanship classes also fall under the category of equine-assisted activity. Two types of classes are offered:

  • Life Skills classes teach participants about horse body parts, breeds and colors; horse nutrition; how to groom and tack a horse; different types of riding; jobs involving horses; bathing horses; horse dental care; and first aid for horses, among other topics. Throughout the class comparisons are made between horse care and activities of daily living experienced by the participants. For example, similarities and differences between horse body parts and human body parts, grooming a horse and personal hygiene, and human nutrition vs. horse nutrition are discussed.
  • Showmanship at Halter classes provide an opportunity for participants to form a partnership with their horse by learning to lead them from the ground in specific patterns. While practicing showmanship patterns and techniques, participants are also practicing gross motor skills, eye-hand coordination, body awareness, sequencing, empathy and teamwork. Showmanship fosters a sense of self confidence and leadership. Those interested in competition have the opportunity to compete in showmanship at the South Carolina Special Olympics.

Rider Information

Riders must meet the following criteria to be eligible to participate in Bearcat Therapeutic Riding’s adapted riding program:

  • Must be diagnosed with a physical, cognitive or social/emotional disability that impairs their ability to take part in a regular riding program
  • Must be at least 3 years old
  • Must meet weight requirements
  • Must behave in a way that is not harmful to animals or volunteers
  • Must be able to and consent to wearing an American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) approved helmet for the duration of the lesson
  • Must have a letter from their physician regarding any precautions or possible contraindications to riding a horse
  • Riders with Down syndrome must have proof of a negative cervical x-ray for atlantoaxial instability
  • All required rider forms must be updated annually
  • Review the Riders Handbook


Adapted Riding Lessons

An adapted riding lesson is 30-45 minutes depending on the age and physical condition of the rider. Each class consists of two-four riders. The lesson includes grooming/tacking horses, mounting riders, tack adjustments, warm-up, review of previously learned skills, teaching of a new skill, games and activities to reinforce skills, cool-down, and dismount. Lessons are geared to the abilities of the riders. Most riders begin with three volunteers, one leading the horse and two sidewalking, and progress to independent riding, if able.

Riders enjoy physical, cognitive and emotional benefits including improved balance, strength, coordination, confidence, attention, communication and social skills, to name a few. Astride a horse, riders with special needs are given the opportunity to experience freedom of movement and acquire confidence by mastering skills, often reserved for their able-bodied peers. Please consult your physicians and therapists regarding the benefits of adapted riding for yourself or your loved one. We look forward to seeing you at the barn.


When We Ride

Riding lessons are offered throughout the week and are scheduled based on horse availability.

If you are interested in riding in our adapted riding program, please call 864-388-8590 or email Tara Slatton at, complete the New Rider Forms and review the Rider Guidelines.


Volunteers are a vital part of Bearcat Therapeutic Riding. Our riders, both children and adults, require up to three volunteers each in order to participate. Volunteers serve primarily as side-walkers and horse-handlers during riding classes, but also clean tack, provide office assistance, help maintain facilities and grounds and assist with special events, such as horse shows. Through required training sessions, volunteers are educated about horse behavior, disabilities, effective communication and, most importantly, how to create a safe learning environment. Bearcat Therapeutic Riding accepts volunteers age 16 and older with all levels of experience.


How to Become a Volunteer

Mail completed forms to:

Tara Slatton
Lander University Equestrian Center
2611 Hwy 72-221 E
Greenwood, SC 29649

Or email to:

Attn: Tara Slatton


Volunteer Opportunities
  • Side-walker: Responsible for assisting rider with instructions and balance during class. Requirements for all side-walkers include: 
    • Able to walk in shallow sand for 45 minutes and jog for brief periods (if unable to jog, may be assigned to non-trotting riders)
    • Should not have back problems
    • Must be able to lift arms above shoulder height
Most riders cannot participate without side-walkers. They form special relationships with the riders as the riders look to them for guidance and support throughout the lesson. Side-walkers become the eyes, ears and voice of the instructor, and as such, are vital to the safety and well-being of the rider.
  • Facilities Maintenance: There are always chores to be done around a barn. These may include washing out feed/water buckets, cleaning tack/helmets, and organizing games/activities, among others.


Advanced Volunteer Opportunities

These opportunities are for volunteers that either successfully complete specialized training provided by Bearcat Therapeutic Riding and/or successfully volunteer for at least one full riding session.

  • Horse-Handler
    Responsible for leading the horse during the adapted riding class. Horse-handler training classes held at Bearcat Therapeutic Riding will educate the prospective horse handler in the appropriate way to communicate with the horse in order to provide the rider/client with the most beneficial movement, and therefore effective session, possible. Classes are scheduled during volunteer trainings in order to determine interest and availability.
    A well-trained horse-handler is an essential volunteer. He/she works as a team with the horse and side-walkers to enable our riders to receive the benefits from and joy of sitting astride a horse in a safe, structured environment.
  • Session Leader
    Responsible for ensuring horses are groomed, correctly tacked and ready for the riding lesson on time, as well as working with volunteers who are interested in learning about grooming/tacking horses.
    Requirements for all session leaders include:
    • Familiarity with rules and policies governing Bearcat Therapeutic Riding and with riding equipment and its use
    • Should be able to give direction in a pleasant and organized manner
    • Review the Grooming and Tacking rules
By managing all the details required to prepare for an adapted riding class, session leaders allow the instructors to focus on the riders and their learning objectives. This is a crucial part of providing safe, progressive and innovative instruction.

Weather Policy

Bearcat Therapeutic Riding does not cancel for inclement weather unless it is dangerous to drive (i.e. ice, snow, sleet, tornado, high winds).

In case of rain, riders will participate in unmounted horsemanship classes. Topics include, but are not limited to: learning how to groom, bathe and tack a horse; instruction in horse nutrition (including making horse treats); hoof and dental care; basic horse first aid; and introduction to horse body parts, colors and breeds. As in the mounted riding lessons, skills and concepts are taught using hands-on practice, as well as games and activities.