Rose Dashner leads a horse from the pasture at Happy Trails Therapeutic Riding Center in New Market. Happy Trails is among 18 organizations across the Tennessee Valley that received one of the 2010 grants awarded by the Thrift Shop's proceeds.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- In the smiles of children and the neighs of the horses they ride the mission of the Redstone Thrift Shop lives on.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Rose Dashner, 9, sits atop Sassy at Happy Trails Therapeutic Riding in New Market. From her ease handling the horse, it is hard to tell that little Rose cannot see.

Afflicted by cortical vision impairment, Rose's eyes are perfectly normal and healthy, but it is in her brain where the damage lies. Due to damage to her visual cortex, Rose's brain cannot process what she sees. While some days are good for her vision, on others Rose cannot even recognize her mom Kathy from across the yard. It is with the horses at Happy Trails however, that Rose is able to find her eyes.

"The horse is kind of like her eyes so it gives her a lot of freedom and independence," Kathy Dashner said of Rose's riding. "She is real fearful of new things, but when she gets around the horses she has no fear. It's like she belongs there. She's born to ride."

For the past year Rose has spent her Sunday afternoons at Happy Trails, grooming, riding and playing games with the horses. With each hour she spends with the horses, Kathy sees a change in her daughter.

"Her confidence has improved greatly," Dashner said. "It has helped teach her some responsibility as well, because they have to help take care of the horses."

That is exactly the point of Happy Trails. Created by Kathi Arnould, the riding center gives people with disabilities the opportunity to grow with the help of an equine companion. Participants enroll in riding lessons where they groom, ride, play and learn to communicate with the horses, all the while fostering their physical and emotional health.

"Riding horses, playing with horses, and being around horses is therapeutic for just about anyone," Arnould said. "Folks with all sorts of challenges can get therapeutic benefits. All our riders gain confidence and enhanced self-esteem. Many of them do things their able-bodied friends are afraid to do."

It is through the generosity of the Thrift Shop that children like Rose are able to experience the therapeutic benefits of horseback riding each week at Happy Trails. Happy Trails is just one of 18 organizations across the Tennessee Valley that received one of the 2010 grants awarded by the Thrift Shop's proceeds.

"It's a great impact on the community and should instill that we are here to help this community, the Soldier," Thrift Shop manager Karen Thompson said. "We put our money where our mouth is. If we're not giving away what's left at the end of the year, then there is no reason for us to be here."

The Thrift Shop Board, headed by chairman Evelyn Teats, began receiving applications for the grants, given out annually, after Thanksgiving. After meeting in February to review applications and evaluate their contributions to not only the Soldier, but the Huntsville community as a whole, checks were immediately cut and mailed to the winning organizations to begin making an impact in the community.

"Our mission is Soldier focused," Teats said. "We always try to take care of the Soldier and the family. Without the community, this wouldn't be possible. We love giving back to our community."

With the money from the Thrift Shop, Happy Trails is able to sustain one horse for a full year, a special gift for the non-profit that relies entirely on donations to continue making a difference in their riders' lives.

"It always makes you feel very proud that what you work toward all year goes back to the community," Alice Myles, adviser to the Thrift Shop, said. "It's what they live, it's not just words."

In recent years the Thrift Shop has undergone a transformation, making it a clean and well-managed shopping spot for those on the Arsenal. As the shopping experience has improved, so has the revenue, in turn allowing the board to give even more money back to the community.

This year, after paying operating costs and the salary of full-time staff, the Thrift Shop was still able to give out $15,000 in grants, an increase from last year.

"In all of our years in the military, this is the best one I've ever seen." Myles said of the shop. "It's clean. It's managed well. They think outside the box and think about the community. I'm so proud of what they do every day."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16