Horses and country music aren’t an unusual pairing. Their immediate association with American western folklore has tied them both together so tightly that most people can’t fathom the amount of country songs about horses. But the two were seen together in our community on September 29th for a very unusual and very important reason. The place was Boones Mill, and the event was the 2012 Hoedown FUNdraiser for Healing Strides of Virginia.

The event, a huge success this year, may have had a silent auction, but it was far from silent. A distinct, fun and polished country sound filled the air. TruGrit was selected to provide music for the fundraiser, and it was a match made in heaven. TruGrit takes pride in delivering a great concert, no matter where they play, and performing great classic and contemporary country music the way it ought to be played. Scott Hardin, lead vocalist for the band, says, “We’ve got a distinct style that I think people really enjoy and bringing that enjoyment through good music is what we do.” Scott, along with John Pappa on lead guitar, Mike Keen on bass, and Ron Hall on the drums pursue their love for country music any way they can. It’s a passion that they have to juggle with working day jobs and raising families in our community. But it’s a passion that drives them to perform at many local venues as often as possible. And there’s always been a soft spot in their collective musical heart for charities, which they have performed for on several occasions. “I feel it’s really important that we give back to this community that’s supported us and our music,” says Pappa. “If we can help some people forget their struggles, enjoy some good music, and have fun for a while, then we love to do it.” This philosophy of giving makes them very similar to Healing Strides of VA.

Healing Strides was established locally 21 years ago, and it has touched and improved the quality of life for people from all walks of life. Healing Strides offers equestrian training and riding services for people with physical conditions that can be improved by interacting with and riding horses. Much like TruGrit, they bring joy to people with so many different situations and difficulties. Carol Young, director of Healing Strides, says, “We have so many people that benefit from what we’re doing – people on the autism spectrum, people with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, various injuries and just all sorts of conditions, even post-traumatic stress. What we’ve found is that it doesn’t matter if you come here perfectly capable of riding or not, the horses help you. Whether it is mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually, they help you.”

But the similarities don’t stop there. Just as TruGrit channels their musical passion with the busy demands of career and family, almost everyone at Healing Strides manages to do the same. “We are made up almost entirely of volunteers and are so blessed that the community has gotten behind us in such a big way. We have volunteers come in that leave saying, ‘Wow, I got so much more out of this than I was able to give.’ They come in and are groomers, greeters, side-walkers or even volunteer administrative workers. And they keep coming back because they see the huge difference that the horses are making in these people’s lives,” says Young. It’s a healing process that can’t really be replicated anywhere else.

There are many different options in modern medicine to help people living with these various physical and mental conditions to cope and to live their lives in as fulfilling a way as possible. These more traditional forms of therapy and medicine are ones that Young believes to be highly important, but she recognizes that the horse therapy that Healing Strides provides is truly unique in its horse sense approach. “You have a person who doesn’t have a lot of control in their life for whatever reason. But now they’re able to be on a thousand pound animal that is respecting them, loving them, listening to them and giving them a trust and security that they don’t get in a lot of other places in their life. That’s such a comfort to these people. There’s no judgment. You can have a bad day and the horse still loves you,” she explains. This is a special service that has caused Healing Strides to be greeted with great success over its 21 years of service.

Healing Strides isn’t standing still. Instead, it’s galloping forward. The Hoedown this year was an extra special celebration to commemorate the grand opening of their new indoor facility. Young notes, “We have been running out of temporary office space and porta-johns, but now we’re finally operating out of a permanent structure with running water, full bathrooms, office space, a therapy room, a classroom, and so much more. In the past, we would have to cancel lessons because of bad weather, but now we can offer class and therapy sessions during that time. But we really hope that it just creates even more of a sense of community and safety here.” Community was exactly what came together on that night, a record turnout for the event, and Young is convinced it was a combination of the excitement for what is to come from Healing Strides and the fantastic performance put on by TruGrit.

The band has already been booked for next year’s hoedown, and both TruGrit and Healing Strides are looking forward to exciting prospects for the coming year. The band is coming out with its first album in November and packing its schedule with great concerts. Healing Strides will continue to grow through its unique therapy into its new, extensive space with a bigger expected turnout than ever before. TruGrit and Healing Strides, both organizations helping a wide variety of people with their own unique passions – that’s what we at OurHealth think that community is all about.