Extending a Helping Hand

Posted on Tuesday, August 19, 2014

While horseback riding is typically viewed as a competitive sport or leisurely hobby, what most don’t realize is that there are many therapeutic aspects to riding a horse; and they’ve been helping people with disabilities all over the world.

Tara East (BS ’79, Agriculture) is the executive director at the Cheff Therapeutic Riding Center; a non-profit center that was built for the purpose of serving those with special needs. The Cheff Center is the first therapeutic riding center in the United States and in the equine/therapy world, they are at the forefront of research. Originally established in England in 1959, the facility arrived in the U.S. in 1969 and has been looking toward the future ever since.

The center strives to help those with mental and emotional impairment, Down syndrome, cancer, and many more physical and mental disabilities. They also offer a Horses for Heroes program which is specifically designed for veterans, and the Silver Saddle Class for an increasingly active senior population. The center offers a variety of physical, occupational, and speech therapists to meet the needs of their clients.

“The funny thing is we are better known nationally and internationally than we are by our local community,” East said. “We have been the leaders of research, instruction, and instructor training in our field from day one.”

East first got involved with the Cheff Center in 1978 when she would visit with her brother-in-law who has special needs. East commented on how he loved the Center and its horses. She began volunteering in the late 80s with her children and in 2006 she became a board member. In 2008, East became their executive director.

As executive director, East wears a variety of hats. On a typical day, she meets with the staff, checks up on the barn, works on fundraisers and sustainability issues, and partakes in any general labor that needs assistance. She also takes the horses to their vet appointments and occasionally picks up new program horses. While the Cheff Center caters mostly to those with special needs, East said that she is trying to help students as well.

“One of my biggest dreams is to have more international students spend time with us,” East said. “Right now we have a contract with a university in Korea and they send students here to learn for a month every year. It is part of the plan to increase that program to other countries.”

Aside from helping patients and students, the Cheff Center is doing what they can to contribute to the environment. East said that they are steadily making improvements, and are currently in the process of putting in LED lights in their barn; a step that will cut their power usage in half. East said they are also researching a bio-digester; a device that turns their manure into reusable energy or other useful material. So whether it be patients, students, or the environment, the Cheff Center is always looking to extend a helping hand.

“At Cheff, we have witnessed children say their first words, helped an accident victim take her first steps, assisted Veterans with PTSD to work through their pain and communicate with others, and been a part of countless other success stories,” East said. “Experiences facilitated by the Cheff Center, its staff, and its horses are literally changing lives every day. I’m thrilled to have the privilege of working for an organization I so believe in and that has so much fun making a difference!”

To learn more about the Cheff Center please visit

Posted by Stan Sulewski