Coffee Creek Riding Stable
How Animals Help Nurture Children
Miracles abound at Coffee Creek Riding Stable where “challenged children” are offered free therapeutic riding — gaining skills such as balance, eye-hand coordination, upper body strength and even sign language. Some of these children walk or talk for the first time at the stable. Some meet an animal for the first time. And some of these little ones find a friend for the first time in these gentle giants called horses.
But unseen miracles brought about this therapeutic riding center. Lucille Fancey, now 85 years old and still teaching English riding and jumping, had a dream nearly 50 years ago to start a therapeutic riding program. She wanted something that would encompass the mental, physical, emotional and social skills for disabled children. She held that dream in her heart for 20 long years, wondering if it would ever become a reality.
“A good idea is nothing unless you have someone to implement it,” Lucille said. She had the horses and land but she didn’t have the time or expertise to start a program.
Her daughter, Joy Milligan, became that person. Joy had just left her teaching job at Rose State College in radiologic technology and planned a move to Colorado to get married. That didn’t happen. Instead, she found herself back in Oklahoma without a job. It was during this time that Lucille shared her dream with her daughter. Joy decided to help her mother’s dream come true. She had all the necessary skills — a background in riding/training, medical knowledge and even teaching experience. She would “start” the program while waiting on a new job opportunity.
“But God had another plan,” said Joy, who will soon be starting her 30th year at Coffee Creek Riding Stables. Not only could Joy not find another job, she had students before she could even get the program started. By the time the program was in existence for six months, she had 50 students. Obviously, Joy was the person to implement Lucille’s plan and both now say God knew that all along. They tell story after story of miraculous ways God has taken care of their finances so Coffee Creek Stables can be a free riding center for disabled children.
“I believe this is God’s gift to the disabled community,” Joy said. “We have trusted Him all these years to keep the program open and He has proved faithful over and over.”
For the first 25 years, Joy felt strongly that she was not to solicit funds for the riding center. She accepted donations and grants by invitation only. However, needing to build an indoor arena, Joy decided to write matching $5,000 grants to raise money for the structure. Much to her dismay, she received very little money.
“God let me do that for three years,” she said, then she put the finances back into His hands. Not surprisingly, that year the Oklahoma Centennial Horse Show and others gave donations totaling $75,000 and the contractor for the arena gave them the building at cost.
Today, Coffee Creek Riding Stables is a partner agency with United Way and receives individual designations. It is also a member of the North American Riding for the Handicapped (NARHA), which consists of more than 700 centers in the United States. NARHA provides education, safety standards and instructor certification.
Coffee Creek has three full-time staff persons and a multitude of volunteers for their 170 students. More volunteers are always welcomed, Joy said. Twelve to 15 volunteers are needed for each hour-long class, five days a week. Each student has three volunteers: one to lead, and one on each side of the horse. “We need 70 volunteers in one week,” Joy said.
The two instructors in addition to Joy are Michelle Canfield and Linda Cloud, who both started out as volunteers. Michelle began working as a volunteer at 11 years old. While away at college she did riding internships and even started a therapeutic riding program for kids at risk. But her heart remained at Coffee Creek and she returned after college to work full time.
Linda began at Coffee Creek by bringing her 8-year-old daughter with disabilities. Soon Linda began to volunteer. When her daughter entered high school, Linda completed a teaching internship and has been an instructor for the last 10 years. Both Michelle and Linda work closely with volunteers as well as the children who range in age from 2 to 12 years old and are disabled in some way.
Many public schools bring their children to the riding center. Often they will have five children on horses in the arena (that is 15 volunteers), and five children eating lunch in one of the classrooms (more volunteers). The children play games on the horses, enhancing their gross and fine motor skills.
“Progress is made in small increments,” Joy said. “You can’t magically make a disability go away, but we can all help. It’s like ripples in a pond. When you drop a stone in the water, ripples move in outward circles.”
So it is with Coffee Creek Riding Stables. Not only do students benefit, but several volunteers have chosen careers in medical or special education fields, causing more ripples in the lives of others. “They came to give, but found they received,” Joy said. “That’s the way God intended it. That’s how He shares His love with every person.”
For more information about Coffee Creek Riding Stables, contact Joy Milligan at 340-8377 or visit www.coffeecreek.org.