Happy Trails: Therapeutic riding provides EFMP members with recreation and networking opportunities

Maryland Therapeutic Riding instructors, therapists and volunteers walk the trail with members of Fort Meade’s Exceptional Family Member Program. MTR in Crownsville offers horseback riding therapy for children and adults year-round. (Photo by Bryan Spann)

Maryland Therapeutic Riding, located minutes from Fort Meade in Crownsville, offers an array of horseback riding programs for children and adults dealing with a wide range of physical, mental and emotional challenges.

Maryland Therapeutic Riding has also become a regular part of Fort Meade’s Exceptional Family Member Program’s series of family outings.

“Maryland Therapeutic Riding allows 20 of our special-needs family members to come out here and enjoy it,” said Portia Jackson, manager of Fort Meade’s EFMP.

“They do everything from grooming horses to horseback riding on this beautiful farm. It’s very therapeutic. We also have some wounded warriors come out here and do this.”

Service members enroll in the EFMP program when they have a family member with a physical, emotional, developmental or intellectual disorder requiring specialized services.

The EFMP works with military and civilian agencies to provide a coordinated approach in providing community support, housing, and medical and educational services to families with special needs.

One part of Fort Meade’s EFMP is regular recreational outings.

“We cater our recreational visits just for these family members,” Jackson said. “So, with this therapeutic horseback riding, it’s a therapy event.

“We also do bowling. We have a sensory-friendly story time with our therapy dogs. It’s to get families out, get them involved.”

EFMP Bowling is held the third Wednesday of every month at The Lanes at Fort Meade.

“Story Time With Condi and Shea,” for special needs children with autism and other developmental delays, is offered on the second Thursday of each month in the Children’s Library at Potomac Place Neighborhood Center.

These outings, said Jackson, are also great opportunities for families to meet other families and network.

Transitioning from assignment to assignment can be extremely challenging for families with special needs, she said.

While moving from place to place can be difficult, Jackson said EFMP is here to help ease those transitions.

The EFMP program is an information center for these families. Jackson said she learns so much from from family members who have been navigating the system.

“They come in and share information with us,” she said. “I would encourage anyone, even if they don’t want to meet other people, to just come into the office.”

The therapeutic riding has been a hit with program members. Unmi Song, an EFMP parent, not only enjoys the therapy aspect of a day at the farm, but also likes that the children learn a lot.

“They get to ride the horse, learn how to groom the horse, what they’re supposed to eat …. everything they’re supposed to know to care for them,” Song said.

Effusive in her praise of the program, Song described the EFMP program as “awesome — a wonderful program.”

Editor’s note: The EFMP office is located at Army Community Services, 830 Chisholm Ave. For more information, call 301-677-5590.

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