By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

The therapeutic riding program Miles of Smiles is best known for its services to children and adults with physical, mental and emotional disabilities or injuries, but thanks to Finney County United Way funding, a lesser-known service is provided by the nonprofit organization.

"We have what we call our Friends and Family Program. It's anything that we do outside of our regular horsemanship lessons. Our horsemanship lessons consist of three or four riders in class, and they come and that's our main basic program, but we started the Friends and Family a few years ago," Sara Brown, director of programs and certified instructor, said.

The United Way provides $7,000 to Miles of Smiles' Friends and Family program, which utilizes the horses' behaviors to demonstrate to humans the different aspects of their own behaviors.

"The horses have to have a pecking order, and they have to learn how to get along with one another and people are the same way, whether they want to admit it or not," Brown said, adding that groups can participate in the program as a means of learning how to work together better in order to be a more functional, cohesive group.

"We'd watch their (horses') herd behavior, and we would see how they learn to get along with one another, so then the group would use what they learn from the horses to go back and learn to work together as a unit," Brown said.

Last year, she said, USD 457 started utilizing the program to help reach at-risk youth, from K through 12.

"They learn that herd dynamic. For instance, maybe they don't have a very good home life or family life, so they learn from the horses how to get along," Brown said. "Or with their classmates, an at-risk student sometimes has behavior issues or anger management issues, and so if they learn from those horses how to cooperate and get along, they can take that back (with them)."

An example of this that Brown shared involved a boy and an outcast horse.

"We had a new horse that was an outcast, and none of the other horses particularly cared for that horse and they weren't very nice to it, and one of the boys said, 'Hey, I was the new kid, and I remember everyone picking on me.' And he totally related with that horse, and they were partners the rest of the time," she said.

Brown said she already has received positive feedback about how the program has helped the kids participating in it.

"The teachers started seeing such good behaviors after they had been there," she said.

Brown's hope is that more groups will learn about and participate in the Friends and Family program.

"We would like to do it more because the funding is there from the United Way to help pay for those workshops," she said. "We call it our Friends and Family program, but Friends and Family means anyone who's not part of our regular riding lessons."

Another program, which also will utilize United Way funding, is on the horizon at Miles of Smiles.

"We also have a new program that we haven't started yet. We're hoping to start after the first of the year. Jennifer Standley is one of our certified instructors, and she just got a certificate from the University of Denver that's based on the human/animal bond the bond that can take place between humans and animals and how that can be used as therapy. So she's going to start a cancer program for either survivors of cancer or current cancer patients," Brown said.

The local United Way's annual campaign goal is $550,000 for 2013, the same as it has been for the last few years.

The 21 partner agencies for the 2013 campaign include: Miles of Smiles; Russell Child Development Center; Finney County RSVP; Kansas Children's Service League; Catholic Social Service; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Program; Smart Start; Playground Program; Family Crisis Services; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; The Salvation Army; Meals on Wheels; Habitat for Humanity; Garden City Family YMCA; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Santa Fe Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America; Community Day Care Center; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.