Good Life

Horses are here to help at Bellefonte riding center

Veteran Frank Haffly walks with Dakota during a session Tuesday at Rising Hope Therapeutic Riding Center in Bellefonte.
Veteran Frank Haffly walks with Dakota during a session Tuesday at Rising Hope Therapeutic Riding Center in Bellefonte.

It’s probably a wax on, wax off kind of thing.

Frank Haffly has spent the past quarter of an hour brushing every inch of a Gypsy Vanner named Dakota.

Tufts of horsehair collecting on the floor like locks at a barbershop and the big fella himself has adopted the same pleasantly vacant expression that most people reserve for a day at the spa or a nephew’s high school graduation.

This isn’t always how a session at Rising Hope Therapeutic Riding Center starts. Uniformity would imply that there’s a typical brand of clientele that’s being catered to and there’s not — at least not really.

Since launching last June, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship accredited center has worked with an array of veterans and people with special needs. The one constant has been the horses, which in the right hands can be used to treat any number of physical, cognitive, social and emotional needs.

Haffly has been with the program since the fall, under the auspices of its Horses for Heroes banner. A Navy man — at least for four years back in the 1980s — he was referred to Rising Hope by Veterans Affairs shortly after his dog passed away.

“I knew it was coming but when it came it was kind of sudden,” Haffly said.

He wasn’t ready to bring another animal into the home, but spending a couple of hours a week spent palling around with a horse sounded like a step in the right direction.

Haffly is a natural with the horses — so said Yvonne McCaslin, Rising Hope’s president of the board and a registered instructor.

McCaslin gets to be both of these things for many reasons, sure, but chief among them has to be that she can list all of the benefits of horsemanship upon request.

“Any time anybody gets on a horse, immediately you have physical benefits,” McCaslin said.

Muscle stimulation, cognitive ability, emotional connection — there’s a reason that Clint Eastwood seems like the kind of cowboy you’d like to take out for a beer.

Not that anybody should consider that their end goal here.

“What you’re looking for is an increased quality of life,” McCaslin said.

Haffly seems to qualify. He talks to Dakota a lot during grooming— not about his mother or childhood or anything like that — but the way you might chat with a dog or a cat or even a friend.

Dakota just listens.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

Check it out

▪ Through June 15, supporters can visit and vote for Rising Hope Therapeutic Riding Center. The equine therapy center with the most votes will receivea free Gypsy Horse.

▪ Dakota will make an appearance at Medlar Field during the State College Spikes game on July 9.

▪ Visit for more information