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A Place for Healing

The Therapeutic Riding Institute offers equine-assisted therapy to kids and adults.

Article by Rod Bluhm

Photography by Christina Littleton Photography

Originally published in Centerville Lifestyle

Tucked away on 23.5 acres in nearby Spring Valley, the Therapeutic Riding Institute (TRI) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. TRI is a place for healing, helping kids and adults with a variety of diagnoses through equine-assisted therapy.

Founded in 1973 by Betty Lou Townley and Linden Moore in Betty Lou’s own backyard, the organization traveled from one boarding facility to another before the TRI farm was purchased in 2019. It is now the only premier accredited center by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship in the Dayton area.

Growing from their modest beginnings, the volunteer-driven community service now boasts a large indoor riding arena with a temperature-controlled viewing room, a barn with grooming stalls and a tack room and acreage for horse turnout.

Executive Director Stephanie Llacuna has a passion for horses, wellness and children. “When this position opened up, I felt called to it. It was time for me to make a change, and I thought I could bring something to the organization that would be positive,” she recalls. Stephanie is a classical musician who was performing and teaching before getting involved in the nonprofit sector in 2012. She was previously a philanthropy officer for Dayton Children’s.

Therapeutic Riding is the core program at TRI for people ages five and up with a range of medical diagnoses such as anxiety and cerebral palsy. Students are evaluated by Program Director Sam Ingersoll to confirm their class fit, set individualized lesson goals and determine a compatible horse and correct tack or equipment. TRI has a wide variety of saddles, reins, stirrups and other tack adapted for different abilities and needs.

The Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructors’ (CTRI) skill sets go far beyond knowing about horses and riding. Their training enables them to work with diagnoses from autism to spina bifida. TRI currently sees about 75 students per 10-week session with riders visiting weekly for 45-minute lessons. They also offer popular summer camps in June and July.

Horses that participate in the program are selected carefully. Only horses with the proper disposition are chosen to take part and are retired from therapeutic riding when necessary due to the specialized work involved.

There are countless benefits associated with participating in TRI programs. Therapeutic riding students experience physical activity that may not otherwise be possible, find themselves in social situations more conducive to forming friendships and feel the empathetic nature of the horse. 

Sam explains the physical aspect of riding, “The horse's gate is the closest you can get to a human’s gate, so the movement of the horse is activating a lot of muscles that people in wheelchairs, walkers or with limited mobility wouldn't normally be able to.”

Stephanie highlights the social benefits, “One of the moms at our gala shared that her daughter had her first birthday party where she had friends come. I get a little weepy thinking about it.” 

Sam and instructor Jess Rice share an experience of working with Centerville riding student, Avery. She suddenly became fearful of getting on a horse during summer camp last year, but with daily attention, care and incremental progress, her confidence returned. Emotions were high when she finally rode again. 

TRI’s future goals include increasing the number of students and public awareness, improving internal and external communications and establishing lasting partnerships with organizations. 

“It's been an amazing experience to work here,” says Stephanie. “Our team is incredible, from our instructors to our directors and everybody who works in the barn.” 

If you’re interested in supporting TRI, their peaceful farm has more than 200 volunteers but needs more. Therapeutic riding and farm work require many hands. Experience with horses is only necessary to qualify for some positions.

TRI will host their gala, Stetsons and Sterling, on September 9 at 5:30 p.m. The event will feature music, dinner, a live auction, student riding demonstrations and more. To purchase tickets, find out about sponsorships or learn more about therapeutic riding, visit

Therapeutic Riding Institute

3960 Middle Run Rd, Spring Valley

937.317.4001 |