PORT DEPOSIT — Freedom Hills Therapeutic Riding combined two of its annual events, their Gala and Family Day, to create a four hour celebration of music, food, and of course, horses at Rolling Hills Ranch in Port Deposit. Around 400 people came out on Sunday to support Freedom Hill, who specializes in therapeutic horse riding programs for veterans, disabled people, and at-risk youth.

The gala usually occurs in February, but they decided to move the fundraiser to May so the event could be outside for safety during COVID. The event was streamed live on the organizations Facebook page, so people who could not attend in person could still participate. They streamed a previous event, the Freedom Cup last year because COVID prevented them from having a live event.

Will Cash said his family have been riding at Freedom Hills for a year. His wife Amber took up the hobby at a young age and her children, Gabby and Alex followed in her footsteps and rode during a demonstration at Family Day. Amber volunteers for Freedom Hills, and was first drawn to the establishment because of its high safety standards, as its one of only 35 Horse Discovery Centers in the state.

The value of horse riding is both physical and mental. For people with physical disabilities it is empowering, giving them a sense of accomplishment that children with physical disabilities can often struggle with achieving when they can’t participate in sports or other social activities. It also helps children develop muscles by mimicking the physical movements of walking.

“If a child has cerebral palsy and they can’t move themselves, the movement of the horse helps them to develop their core muscle strength and their balance,” said Amber Cash.

The bond a rider creates with a horse, and the sense of accomplishment riding creates, is beneficial for a wide array of mental health issues. Along with its veteran and disabled programs, Freedom Hills also has a program geared toward at risk children.

“There are so many benefits to an at risk child,” said founder Renee Dixon. “It teaches them confidence, responsibility, timeliness, orderliness.”

The barn consists of 29 horses plus a donkey. They serve 50-75 people a week through therapeutic riding.

Dixon first found out about therapeutic riding at the age of 16 and has worked in the field ever since. Freedom Hill is now the only Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) accredited center in the county.

“It’s not a job. It’s a ministry,” Dixon said. “I just love working with people. It’s great to take someone out of a wheelchair and give them four strong legs to walk on.”

The event featured the farm’s first art contest for children from K-6. Some 25 people participated in the competition. The students were asked to think about freedom, horseback riding, horsemanship and farm life. There were first to third place winners along with honorable mentions for each of the three grade brackets K-1,grades 2-3, and grades 4-6. Local artist Jo Pinder judged the entries.

Orsolya Herbein, who owns a branding and marketing company, introduced the art contest. She felt it was important, especially during the pandemic, to give children an activity they could participate and look forward to.

The winner for the first place for grades four through six was sixth grader Jocelyn Deakins, third grader Cate Partridge for grades two and three, and first grader Grace Neilson for kindergarten and first grade. Most of the art featured kids alongside their favorite horse. Partridge’s winning piece featured a girl leading a horse into a barn, with purple mountains, a reference to “America The Beautiful,” as the backdrop.

The event featured live music from Dave Reed and Restore Church. Along with riding demonstrations, the event featured pony rides, a hayride, and several games.

A silent auction to benefit Freedom Hills will continue until May 9.

Readers interested in participating can go to the link here.

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