A Moment of Freedom: Equine Assisted Riding

TR Staff
Staff Writer

By Joey Marini
Providing the opportunity for an individual with intellectual, mental, and/or physical disabilities to feel comfortably salubrious is perhaps the most genuine form of love one could offer. To make an effort in easing one's discomfort through any sort of activity with therapeutic benefits rewards the participant with the deepest sense of intrinsic wealth. Since 2013, A Moment of Freedom has been journeying towards that for both its riders and volunteers.
A Moment of Freedom is an Equine Assisted Riding program that utilizes horses and support staff in an attempt to provide a sense of freedom, relaxation, and happiness for their riders. AMOF is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3), located a mile East of Buchanan. It is one of only a few programs that dedicates itself solely to helping those with disabilities in the nearby vicinity and looks for tremendous growth in the future. A new location, an increase in staff, horses, and riders, and the support of the community and other similar programs will help obtain that growth. The act of riding a horse provides such a different experience for these riders; activating and relaxing certain muscles groups, providing an increase of frequency as well as clarity in verbal communication, and allows nonverbal individuals to come out of their shell and enjoy the hour ride. The program looks to also provide riders the opportunity to develop and refine fine motor skills in tacking the horses.
President and founder, Annie Keffeler, works diligently alongside program director, Kelli Connolly, in ensuring the fluidity, accessibility, and enjoyment behind A Moment of Freedom. Annie Keffeler has worked with the special needs population ever since she was sixteen years old and believes she was guided to do this. After walking away from an accident in 2013, Keffeler realized her purpose and began laying the foundation of AMOF, working with programs like SPURS in Aberdeen, researching blueprints and layouts of facilities, aligning legalities, filing and passing articles of corporations, and doing general due diligence to ensure all proper protocols were taken and all avenues were ventured. In addition to her involvement with AMOF, Keffeler is also a published and nationally recognized children's author. She has always found proving a platform for the improvement of other's lives, whether through a laugh, a provoked thought, or just a moment of freedom, is her true profession.
Their calling and primary demographic is prominent in SE/Central North Dakota and AMOF is an advocate of participating through any program if it promotes the similar mission of “providing a healthy, loving, unique, and safe experience for individuals and horses, intending to facilitate both physical and emotional restorative therapies to help balance body and soul, and attaining an individual’s personal growth by working with support staff and horses.”
Alongside directing AMOF, Kelli Connolly works in a dental office as well as specializing in equine massages. Her love for horses is one that she grew up with and has acquired an abundance of equine knowledge in her life.
“I suppose I took them for granted for a long time,” said Connolly in reference to her continuous involvement with horses. “I never really appreciated the influence they've had on my life.”
Keffeler contributed, “People don't really grasp how influential and therapeutic they are.”
The two balance each other very well; Keffeler having experience with the disabled and Connolly with her lifelong love and understanding of horses.
The program is available to those ages four and older. AMOF has made a tremendous push to get residents of nursing homes involved as well. With the actual opportunity to get on and ride, it would bring riders back to their younger days and really provide that moment of freedom. The program has also recently been donated a wheelchair ramp and is in the process of constructing it. The facility is currently on Annie Keffeler's property, on an enclosed field of packed dirt. They look to move off-site in the future and are always looking for available land and equipment. A Moment of Freedom uses four horses and is attempting to increase that size through training, desensitizing, and testing. In the future, they look to obtain horses that are built to ride.
Connolly spoke on the intelligence and compassion of horses, “Especially true of trained horses, they understand the person riding. They take care of their rider and adjust their walking accordingly.”
In these hour-long sessions, there is also an opportunity for the community as side walkers. Family, friends, and members of the community are encouraged to participate and partake in this revolutionary moment.
“It's therapeutic just to walk beside them and to be a handler for them,” said Keffeler, offering lessons to those who volunteer.
Members of the community are encouraged to contact Annie and Kelli, as there are a plethora of ways to get involved. On August 24th, the program will hold a Barn Dance at the Stutsman County Fairgrounds in the Beer Gardens as a fundraiser with doors opening at 5 p.m. There will be a silent auction, raffle tickets, and table sponsorships available. Local businesses are implored to inquire as there is a limited availability of tables left. They will also be hosting their 3rd Annual Homecrafter and Vendor Show at the University of Jamestown on November 23rd at the Larson Center.
Perhaps the most impactful way to contribute to A Moment of Freedom is through donations and sponsorships. A Moment of Freedom boasts a “Wall of Honor,” eternalizing one's name and/or business through a tax-deductible $250 donation. AMOF is also currently looking for tack, noting that anyone who wishes to donate can do so with James at Affordable Promo in Valley City.
Annie Keffeler and Kelli Connolly can be reached at amomentoffreedom@outlook.com, through their Facebook page; amoftherapueticriding, or by cell (701) 320 – 3543 (Keffeler)/ (701) 320 – 1603 (Connolly).