Naperville Women: Certified riding instructor at Ready, Set, Ride

Ready, Set, Ride is off the beaten path in north Plainfield. To passers-by, it looks just like any other barn, but for many, it is a life-changing place.

Lisa Afshari, of Naperville, stumbled across the barn in 2003.

“I was looking for a place to board my horse in exchange for doing barn chores,” Afshari says.

Intrigued by RSR’s therapeutic horse-riding program, she volunteered to work with the riders.

Afshari’s timing could not have been better. Because of a transfer in ownership, RSR was in jeopardy of going under. When a new owner stepped in, Afshari, the daughter of a special education teacher, took on a larger role at the barn.

“It was like a light bulb went off,” Afshari says.

Today she is one of two certified riding instructors, a director on the board and a daily figure at the barn.

RSR serves both children and adults who come for weekly therapy at the barn.

“We are open to any rider with special needs,” Afshari says.

Therapy at RSR is conducted on horseback. Afshari and her staff of volunteers make the experience fun for the riders by including games in the weekly lessons.

“We always start out with Simon Says before the ride to relax everyone,” Afshari says.

For riders like Sam Markwell of Plainfield, just walking through the barn doors can be overwhelming. Markwell, 14, is sensitive to sounds and smells, and does not like flies. To get to get to his therapy session, the RSR staff help him to overcome those challenges.

“Riding for him is emotional and physical, and he is exhausted,” says his mother, Sherry Markwell. “However, the minute he gets off the horse, he starts talking about next time.”

It takes 200 volunteers to fill the many jobs at RSR, from caring for the horses to working with the riders. A leader and two side walkers help guide and encourage each rider during the lesson.

“We try to keep the riders with the same team each week, and they form a friendship with the volunteers,” Afshari says.

Jennifer Stransky, of Wheaton, has been bringing her 13-year-old son Nick to RSR since he was 7. They started coming for occupational therapy but found other benefits in his lessons.

“Riding the horses gives Nick a profound sense of peace,”she says.

RSR also assists students in Bolingbrook Valley View District’s STEP program. The program teaches life lessons to special needs students, ages 18 to 22. The students help daily with barn chores, but they are learning more than how to clean out a stall.

“They are learning how to be a self-sustaining adult — they have a job with a uniform, they have a routine, and they learn responsibility,” Afshari says.

In 2003, RSR had 16 riders. Today they work with more than 70 riders each week. Like most nonprofit organizations, getting the money to keep the program going is always a concern.

Cowboys and Angels Dinner and Auction is a yearly fundraiser for RSR. Scheduled this year for Nov. 7, RSR hopes to raise $20,000 to support the facility through the winter months when it is too cold for lessons. Donated auction items such as gift cards are collected throughout the summer and fall.

At the end of the day, Afshari feels blessed to be able to work outside, spend time with the horses and help the riders achieve their goals.

“I knew this is what I was supposed to do.”

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To Help

Learn more about Ready, Set, Ride, 13056 Essingston Road, Plainfield, at 815-439-3659 or readysetride.org

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