“It doesn’t take much to be a milestone here. One little boy who seldom speaks has the best ‘Whoa!’ of anybody.”
The rewards of Jody Keeley’s career of caring are often measured in the tender smiles of special-needs children whose lives are being changed on the back of a horse, one gentle step at a time.
Lovesome Stables Equitherapy—the therapeutic horseback riding program that she and her friend Paula Gatewood founded at Gatewood’s Grant County farm in 2007—is a touchstone of Keeley’s lifelong passions and prayers.
As a child in rural western Pennsylvania, she developed a love of horses and dreamed of being a
veterinarian. In high school, she volunteered with special-needs children during the summer, then was drawn to that work as a career.
Today, she is a teacher of special-needs and at-risk preschoolers in Kenton County, and is the mother of four, one of whom has severe cerebral palsy. She still manages to devote many hours each week to Lovesome Stables’ nonprofit equine-assisted therapy program. Learn more about the program at www.lovesomestables.com.
Several of the program’s 40 riders, some as young as age 4, live in areas served by Owen Electric Cooperative, who told us about Keeley’s inspirational program.
Nominal fees, grants, and donations essentially fund the care of the nine horses and equipment, but do not enable Keeley and Gatewood to devote full-time to therapeutic riding.
“I would love to eventually work this into my full-time job, but at this point I still need some income,” says Keeley.
She is hooked on the fringe benefits—warm hugs from grateful parents and grandparents, and tiny moments of triumph in the lives of special-needs children, like the little autistic girl who had been virtually nonvocal, but who suddenly began singing one day as she was riding.
“I don’t know exactly what miracle occurs when a child is on horseback, but we were the recipient of such a miracle,” says volunteer Linda Gribben, whose grandson is among those being helped by the rhythmic gait of the horse.
“He never had looked me or my husband in the eyes, or even spoken to us. He simply wasn’t capable of focusing on anything long enough to interact with most people,” she says. “At the end of the class, as the children dismounted one by one, this special grandchild came right up to us and high-fived both of us, and said, ‘I love you, Grandma and Grandpa.’ We were absolutely stunned.”