Fifteen years of service and counting for Graz’n Acres

Published 11:02 am Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Kiana Clark, 11, works with the instructors on naming parts of the horse from a flash card. -- CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

Kiana Clark, 11, works with the instructors on naming parts of the horse from a flash card. — CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

SEDLEY—In 1999, Graz’n Acres Therapeutic Riding Center got off the ground with one horse and two patients. Now, celebrating 15 years of service, the riding center has 10 trained horses and 80 patients.

“When we first started, a lot of people said, ‘you are way out there, you will never survive,’” Director and lead instructor Cyndi Raiford said. “But we knew that the need was here, and after 15 years I think we have proven that.

“It has been challenging, but we have done well.”

Rashawn Cumbo, 4, rides Shadow at Graz’n Acres.

Rashawn Cumbo, 4, rides Shadow at Graz’n Acres.

Located in Southampton County, the center provides therapeutic riding, driving and At-Risk programs for children and adults with physical, intellectual, emotional and learning disabilities from the cities of Franklin and Suffolk and the counties of Isle of Wight, Southampton and Sussex, as well as the surrounding areas of Southeastern Virginia and Northeastern North Carolina.

The center’s participants range in age from 3 years old to adult with all types of disabilities. In addition to the evening lessons, the non-profit also has four morning school programs: an At-Risk program with Fresh Start from Southampton County Schools and therapeutic riding programs with Southampton County Public School Special Education Department, Franklin City Schools Special Education Department and Rivers Bend Academy of Suffolk.

“We have quite a number of students who have had significant changes in behavior,” Raiford said. “When they come to us, their parents don’t want to carry them anywhere in public. Over time, we work through that.

“Parents are always amazed, after several months, in the change in behavior pattern.”

Participants work on balance and coordination, fine and gross motor skills, behavior, speech, socialization and so much more during lessons tailored specifically to their individual needs. All while participating in a fun, outdoor activity. The progress they make each and every day is amazing, thanks to their special partners, our therapeutic lesson horses and ponies.

“One of the biggest things will see, even in students without disabilities, is balance and coordination issues,” Raiford said. “After about six to eight months, balance improves tremendously, and then they want to try and ride a bike. For an 8-, 9-, or 10-year-old kid, that’s huge.”

Raiford said that in conjunction with physical therapy, the center has also had several patients go from “wheelchairs to walkers.”

The center is a “Premier Accredited Center” of PATH Int’l (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, formerly known as NARHA) in therapeutic riding and driving. It has two full-time instructors, both certified in therapeutic riding and one in therapeutic driving.

Graz’n Acres also has a dedicated group of 50 volunteers that help with lessons as leaders and sidewalkers, as well as fundraising, public events, facility maintenance and board members.

“We have a lot of people who have just been wonderful supporters throughout years,” she said. “Local foundations are a consistent supporter of the center, year after year.”

And 15 years in, Raiford has no plans to settle down in the near future. though of course when she does want to retire, she hopes to see the center continue.

“The goal is that Graz’n Acres continues long after I retire,” Raiford said. “We want the center to always be a viable service provider in this community.”

To learn more about becoming a participant, volunteer or how to support the center and the progress of participants, contact Raiford at 653-9615 or Look for its new and updated website in July at