A Stable Future: High demand spurs Morning Dove Therapeutic Riding to build new facility


By Heather Lusk

Liz Coit doesn’t like telling people no.

As executive director for Morning Dove Therapeutic Riding, Coit has found that it’s a word she uses far too often. Organizations and riders often want to use the facility, but with limited space, the schedule is often full.

“We are blessed to be in this facility, don’t get me wrong,” Coit said. “We’ve been able to skimp and add some really necessary things.”

In three years, Coit will be able to say “yes” to those many requests as Morning Dove prepares to launch a comprehensive campaign to build a new facility in Whitestown. The campaign also will create an endowment to help with operating expenses. Development Director Bailee Reynolds said she hopes half the funds will be raised through lead investors prior to publicly launching the campaign in 2019.

The new facility will be near E 550 S in Whitestown on 30 acres that is currently farmland. Located near I-65, it will be easily accessible by residents of Boone, Hamilton and Marion counties. Development Director Bailee Reynolds said she hopes half of the funds will be raised through lead investors prior to publicly launching the campaign in 2019.

Morning Dove is one of a handful of Premiere Accredited Centers through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. The new facility will cement it as one of the largest therapeutic riding facilities in the nation and will be one of few built specifically for adaptive riding programs.

The new location will have additional meeting space, more training rooms, a full outdoor arena and a heated indoor arena, allowing it to stay open longer in the winter.

Pacing the schedule

Nearly 120 students participate in each nine-week session at Morning Dove. The classes help people with disabilities learn a variety of skills by riding horses. Depending on their needs, they may increase core strength and balance; learn to follow a sequence of events; improve motor skills impulse control; and develop empathy.

Horses are ideal for therapy because their gait mimics the movement of the human pelvis, teaching human muscles to move as if they’re walking.

“When (Jay) rides a horse it’s the closest thing he gets to the feeling of walking,” said Mary Jane Perkins, whose son, Jay Perkins, is in a wheelchair.

A special harness lifts Jay from his wheelchair to mount Pete, a horse with whom he shares a solid connection and many treats.

“I like the bond between the horse and the rider,” Mary Jane said.

Jay is perfectly at ease riding. He started hippotherapy when he was 3 and moved into therapeutic riding several years ago. Hippotherapy is physical or occupational therapy approved by a physician. The absence of a physical therapist is the only difference Mary Jane Perkins has noticed between hippotherapy and therapeutic riding. However, instructors at Morning Dove still focus on goals and trunk control for Jay.

“I think the transition was pretty much seamless,” Perkins said.

Every Friday, the entire facility is rented by St. Vincent for hippotherapy lessons, but therapy is only one piece of Morning Dove’s offerings. Its EAL programs teach a myriad of skills beyond riding a horse.

“We’re teaching them to interact with the horses in different ways to help with teamwork, self awareness, respect, body language, that kind of thing,” Coit said. “We’re still discovering different ways to use our horses,” she said.

Addiction rehab centers, veterans programs and programs for at-risk youth are among Equine Assisted Learning groups that participate.

“A horse is a very clear, non-verbal communicator if you look for it,” Coit said. “They also forgive very quickly.”

Horses best suited are older, seasoned and healthy enough to be ridden. In addition, horses must be curious and enjoy activity.

A variety of horse personalities meet the many needs of riders. Children on the autism spectrum need an active horse requiring an attentive rider. By comparison, a child with cerebral palsy may require a horse with a gentle gait. Horses too old for riding can still be part of EAL programs.

From left, Morning Dove Development Director Bailee Reynolds offers support by spotting the rider, Jay Perkins. Volunteer Jacki Gaines leads Pete the therapeutic horse, while Office Manager and Assistant Program Director Patti Henry supports the rider and Morning Dove Executive Director Liz Coit follows. (Photo by Sara Baldwin Schatz)

A humbling beginning

Morning Dove was established nearly 20 years ago with six riders on a Saturday afternoon. It bounced between several riding centers until 2011 when it leased an area on the Fortune family farm in Zionsville.

Through the years, Morning Dove has added office space, an insulated riding area and more spots for horses cobbled to the existing buildings on the property.

Soon after Morning Dove obtained nonprofit status, it began conducting annual fundraisers, including the Dove Ball, to help defray operational costs. This year’s Dove Ball theme, “Horseshoes and Harmonies,” will be Nov. 2 from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Golf Club of Indiana in Whitestown. Howl at the Moon dueling pianos will perform.  

Morning Dove hopes to raise $75,000 during the event to help maintain operations. Tickets are $125 each and are available at morningdovetrc.org.

Expansion Numbers

With its new facility, Morning Dove will expand programming, adding additional riders, lessons and staff.

  • Number of clients per session – 120 (now); 250 (new facility)
  • Hours of lessons – 3,800 (now); 10,800 (new facility)
  • Weeks open per year – 38 (now); 48 (new facility)
  • Number of volunteers required – 100 (now); 300 (new facility)
  • Number of horses – 15 (now); 25 (new facility)
  • Current staff – 5
  • Cost to care for one horse for one year – $3,000 (covers food, vaccines and shoes)
  • Dove Ball donations – cover 40 percent of operating costs for the year


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