Southern Reins: Equine-Assisted Services to Empower, Inspire, Nurture and Succeed

Jordan Walker, Southern Reins’ Director of Development and Communications, and Dannon Eubanks, the Director of Community Engagement for Volunteer Odyssey, collaborated on this story. Southern Reins partners with Volunteer Odyssey for their volunteer management system. We support their volunteer needs and their mission. What is their mission? We are so glad you asked!

Southern Reins Center for Equine Therapy was founded in 2015 with a mission of serving individuals with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities and hardship by providing equine-assisted services to empower, inspire, nurture and succeed.

Southern Reins utilizes 35 beautiful and expansive acres in Collierville – the heart of Memphis horse country – to provide services to participants of all ages and from all across the Mid-South. We are honored to serve hundreds of individuals each year at the farm. Together with the support of our generous community and an incredible team of volunteers, we are helping them discover their full potential, celebrating their ABILITY, and changing lives…one ride at a time. 

Southern Reins offers adaptive horseback riding, Occupational Therapy incorporating Hippotherapy, Making Strides Recreation Therapy, Unbridled Horsemanship, Silver Stirrups, Equine Services for Heroes, equine-assisted psychotherapy, and a new school program launching this fall that will bring UK Shetland ponies into the classroom to contribute to educational achievement of special needs children and at-risk youth.

Our programs are designed to focus on the ability of each individual to establish goals that will enhance their life skills and improve their overall quality of life. While our organization serves many, our team is small. So the success of all of the programs we offer is contingent on the support of volunteers. We have trained 1,000 volunteers since 2015, and have an active roster of 372 amazing individuals who give with their heart to make miracles possible for everyone we serve. 

The dedication of time and talent of our volunteers is what makes Southern Reins such a magical place. We rely on volunteers to help with lessons, do barn chores, assist with special events, and more. In any one lesson, there may be as many as fifteen volunteers needed to lead our horses and support our participants. 

You may be wondering…why horses?

For people with physical challenges, riding a horse improves joint mobility, balance and coordination, muscle tone and strength, eye-hand coordination, and fine motor skills. Cognitive benefits include learning critical problem-solving skills, how to take multi-step directions, how to plan and communicate, and relationship building with the horse, instructor, and volunteers.  Emotionally, participants develop greater self-esteem, confidence, reduced fear and anxiety, and improved social skills. In a nutshell, horses are the key to success for the people we serve. 

Southern Reins knows success takes many forms and we work to celebrate each one. One beautiful example is the story of Kaitlyn. She has been riding at Southern Reins since the summer of 2016. Kaitlyn has cerebral palsy, and when she started with our program, she had a very high muscle tone, a condition that causes tight muscles and stiff or rigid movements, which made even mounting the horse difficult. She struggled to elongate her legs in the saddle and had difficulty using her arms to steer the horse.  

For her first two years with us, Kaitlyn required a lot of support.  She had a horse leader and two sidewalkers to keep her safe during her lessons. During cooler temperatures, she often struggled because her muscles wouldn’t relax. Always determined, and always smiling, she was committed to riding each week. For two years, Kaitlyn worked hard in lessons to improve her balance, posture, and coordination. In the fall of 2017, she took her first solo ride. No horse leader. No sidewalker. Just Kaitlyn and her therapy horse, Baby. It was a giant step forward for Kaitlyn, and she has continued to improve in her riding ability.

In 2019, Kaitlyn began Occupational Therapy at Southern Reins, in addition to adaptive riding, because she wanted to develop her riding skills even more. Part of what makes Kaitlyn’s story so powerful is how her weekly lessons helped her gain independence.  

For several years before starting our program, she relied on her mom to help her with everyday tasks, like brushing her teeth and putting on her socks, and she wanted to be able to care for herself. As she continued riding at Southern Reins, she began achieving those goals. Kaitlyn was able to brush her teeth and put on her socks. Then she started doing her own laundry – including folding her clothes and putting them away. She can now dress herself and make her bed. 

Kaitlyn describes the feeling that she gets when riding as “freedom.” Now she rides her favorite therapy horse Rebel independently – and is a master at all of the obstacle courses. In fact, her next goal is to be able to jump – because there’s no obstacle she can’t overcome. Stories like Kaitlyn’s are what Southern Reins’ mission is all about.

Southern Reins needs volunteers, donors, and advocates. Sharing this story, talking about Southern Reins, and getting involved in any way furthers our reach and mission. 

Ways to get involved and support Southern Reins Center for Equine Therapy:

  • Follow them on Facebook & Instagram
  • Subscribe to their newsletter to stay up to date on all of the great things happening at the farm: 
  • Join their page on Volunteer Odyssey to express interest in volunteering 
    • Volunteer opportunities include side walkers & horse leaders: 
      • Sidewalkers ensure the safety of our riders; walking beside the horse in lessons and providing physical and/or emotional support. They help the rider successfully reach their lesson goals, as well as ensure rider safety before, during, and after the lesson. Our goal is to ensure each participant can learn how to ride as independently as possible.
      • Horse Leaders ensure that each horse is groomed, tacked, and warmed up prior to the start of each lesson. They help ensure the safety of horse and rider before, during and after the lesson. Horse Leaders also help with untacking and grooming their horse after the lesson.
  • Attend the 7th Annual Jockeys & Juleps Derby Party: Southern Reins’ largest fundraiser of the year coming up on Saturday, May 7 from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. Featuring big hats, bourbon, bluegrass, and a live broadcast of the Kentucky Derby, it is the party of the year in the Mid-South. Join us for the Run for the Roses. . . Memphis Style! 
  • Donate to support Southern Reins Center for Equine Therapy in the daily pursuit of our mission to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities throughout our community.

Dannon Thornton is the Director of Community Engagement at Volunteer Odyssey. She graduated from the University of Memphis where she spent lots of time falling in love with the city through volunteering. You can contact her at

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