Reporter: Ellie Mahan
June 16, 2022
Recent Blum graduate Stormie Swinburne was ecstatic the first time she put on her leather jacket with patches that read “All American Quarter Horse Congress Reserve Champion.” The hours of training with her horse Doc paid off when she earned the congress jacket by winning reserve champion in Horsemanship and third place in Western Pleasure at The All American Quarter Horse Congress, a Youth Equestrian Development Association (YEDA) competition in Ohio.
Swinburne is also proud to hold championship and reserve championship titles with the Hill County Fair, 4-H competitions and the Johnson County Horse Committee. What Swinburne appreciates even more than winning is the feeling of being in the arena and spending time with her horses and the people who share her love for the sport.
“I love being in the atmosphere. You don’t have to worry about whether other people are judging you because everybody is the same. They all have the same goal, to ride and enjoy the horses,” Swinburne said.
Now that she has graduated, Swinburne plans to work toward turning her passion and aptitude for horsemanship into a career that will help others. She will attend Saint Andrews University in North Carolina on an equestrian scholarship, and there she will major in therapeutic horsemanship and minor in psychology. Her degree and PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) riding instructor certification will allow her to improve people’s mental or physical disabilities through horse riding lessons.
A few conditions that therapeutic horsemanship can help with include PTSD, anxiety and addiction. Therapeutic horseback riding can also improve motor skills in children with cerebral palsy, autism and ADHD. Spending time with horses can boost a person’s confidence, self-esteem, social skills, empathy, impulse control, problem-solving skills and social and emotional awareness. Physically, horseback riding can improve coordination, balance, strength, flexibility and core, according to PATH International.
Swinburne desires to change as many people’s lives as possible with her horse lessons, with a focus on helping veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Her life’s dream is to open her own center near her hometown to help local veterans through therapeutic horsemanship.
“One of the things that drives me to want to help more is that the average amount of veterans who commit suicide every single day is 22. My goal in life is to help lower that number,” Swinburne said.
As stated by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, “Equine-assisted services of all types have proven effective for veterans and active service personnel. Some participate in therapeutic horsemanship including riding and driving, while others benefit from healing their trauma through psychotherapy or strengthening their bodies with physical therapy incorporating horses.”
Swinburne has family connections to the military and has seen first hand how PTSD can affect people in their day-to-day life and wants to do her part to ease veterans’ stress. PATH states that it can be encouraging for veterans to regain function and mobility and re-establish social ties through engagement in team activities.
Swinburne has attended a show with the National Snaffle Bit Association called Heroes On Horses. She said, “Heroes on Horses is when these veterans ride in a class and then they compete against each other. It’s so cool to hear their different stories of what they’ve struggled with. It’s like whenever they get on top of those horses to ride, they don’t think about it. You don’t see that they’re depressed or scared.”
Swinburne saw lots of camaraderie and friendly competition between the veterans at the Heroes on Horses show. She saw people from different branches of the military playfully poke fun at one another and compare experiences.
Stormie’s mother, Molly Swinburne said, “They tease each other all the time, but when they get in that arena together, it’s all serving the purpose of ‘Let’s be unified. Let’s be thankful for each other.’” She attested that the veterans’ families build forever friendships with the people they meet at Heroes on Horses competitions.
Molly’s feelings about her daughter going off to college to pursue her dreams can be summed up in one word: “proud.” She has seen Stormie overcome obstacles and put the needs of her horses above her own in order to get to where she is today.
Molly said, “She is like a sponge. She took to it and just kept getting better and better. When you have horses, they come first. It doesn’t matter if it’s freezing outside. You have to make sure that your horse is taken care of.” Molly has watched as her daughter grew in her maturity level and ability to take on more responsibility. In times of stress, Molly knows all Stormie needs is a short amount of time petting, brushing or riding her horse.
Molly will miss her daughter in the fall, as Saint Andrews University is almost 1,200 miles away, but she knows that obtaining an education in therapeutic horsemanship is a goal that her daughter has worked toward since she began riding horses four years ago. The program, which includes PATH certification upon completion, is not offered at any of the universities in Texas, Molly said.
Her mom said seeing Stormie work in a career that she loves will make all the early mornings and long nights spent in preparation for horsemanship competitions worth it. Along with her mother, Stormie’s biggest supporters have been her two sisters, who have been with her every step of the way, helping her, videoing from the stands and providing words of encouragement.
Already gaining experience with sharing her horsemanship knowledge, Stormie takes every opportunity she can to teach people about horses. She teaches her family members, children at summer camps, and she also gives tips and pointers to youth who are new riders in the YEDA organization.
Before she heads off to college, Stormie still has several competitions left. Her district 4-H horse show was set for Monday, June 13, and Tuesday, June 14.
Stormie has also earned enough points throughout the year to participate in the nationals competition with YEDA, which will be in Tennessee Thursday, June 23, through Sunday, June 26. For those interested in watching Stormie compete in class numbers seven and 12, YEDA nationals will be livestreamed on youtube at: https:///www.youtube.com/c/YEDAOfficial. After YEDA Nationals, her summer competitions will wind down with a state 4-H competition in July.
Molly looks forward to seeing Stormie compete at YEDA nationals this year because she knows that the hard work she has put in since the last nationals competition will be evident in the growth of her abilities.
Stormie believes that there is nothing more freeing than being on a horse, so she is happy to finish out her summer with competitions. She will approach her college career with nervous excitement about the many opportunities that are yet to come.
To learn more about therapeutic horsemanship, visit pathintl.org.