Lift Me Up! Therapeutic Riding Program Celebrates 40 years!

Lift Me Up! Therapeutic Riding Program Celebrates 40 years!

Submitted by: Laura Smith
Phone: 571-331-7709
Email Address: ladysmithrides(at)
Date Added: 3/17/2015

Great Falls has changed a lot since 1975, but Lift Me Up! has been a constant thanks to founder Colleen Zanin and longtime resident Great Falls resident Flo Dougherty.
At just twenty-three years of age, a fearless pioneer, Colleen Zanin knew what good horses could bring to people with special needs by introducing them to horses and their therapeutic movement and presence after reading an article in The Chronicle of the Horse during her last semester in college.
Virginia seems to be the launch pad for many ideas and programs that migrate from England as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association has its origins in Middleburg, Virginia thanks to Alexander MacKay-Smith (publisher of The Chronicle of the Horse) and Dr. Robert Banner, Sr. who helped support the development of therapeutic riding in the U.S. begin officially in 1969. Zanin studied riding in England and had a bachelors degree in Child Development and was certified by John Davies as a therapeutic riding instructor at a time when therapeutic riding was brand new in the United States but was popular in England particularly with assisting injured soldiers in their recovery. In 1975, Zanin founded the Old Dominion School of Therapeutic Horsemanship (ODSOTH) at Deerfield Horse Center (which became Great Falls Equestrian Center and is currently Stonebridge Stable) in Great Falls. With just a few horses, riders and a handful of volunteers, the program was in motion. (The name ODSOTH was later simplified to Lift Me Up!)
Fortunately, one of the very first volunteers was lifelong Great Falls resident and equestrian Flo Dougherty. Doughtery's family has owned a farm in Great Falls since 1869 and originally was comprised of 200 acres extending from Innsbruck Road to Ad Hoc Road, adjacent to Cornwell Farm. Dougherty and Zanin developed a friendship and became roommates residing on the farm until both women married in 1978. Zanin prepared for her nearby nuptials in the white house at 9704 Georgetown Pike, owned by Bessie Van Patten (built in 1903), Dougherty's mother. For the next three decades the program flourished and offered classes in the ring on Dougherty's property off the Georgetown Pike and the Madeira School in the evenings and weekends to accommodate work and school schedules of riders, instructors and volunteers.
Zanin also became a certified Occupational Therapist at the University of Pennsylvania and earned a masters degree in Special Education. These new credentials led to the inception of "Hippotherapy" at Lift Me Up! in 1987. Zanin was among fifteen therapists to travel to Germany to study a new specialized equine assisted therapy. Hippotherapy engages the movement of the horse with therapeutic goals (not necessarily riding skills) to help their patients reach new milestones related to fine and gross motor skills as well as speech. Between Lift Me Up and full and part-time positions as an Occupational Therapist with Fairfax County Public Schools for seventeen years, Zanin was very busy. Zanin was also one of the founding members of the Therapeutic Riding Association of Virginia as she helped others initiate other centers and establish best practices and teach others how to become instructors and therapists in this special field. Among her students, were Master Instructor and founder of the Cassion Platoon Equine Assisted Program at Ft. Myer, Mary Jo Beckman as well as Program Director and Advanced Instructor for Lift Me Up, Georgia Bay.
Thanks to the dedication of Zanin, Dougherty and hundreds of riders, thousands of volunteers, instructors and financial supporters, Lift Me Up! is celebrating 40 years of helping people with special needs in our community. Supervisor John Foust has issued a proclamation on behalf of Fairfax County for 40 year of service which will be presented on April 7th in front of the Board of Supervisors. In addition, Lift Me Up! plans to observe Founder's Day with a celebration on May 17th from 1 pm to 4 pm and observe this anniversary throughout the year, culminating at the Annual Lift Me Up! Gala in November. Over the years, Lift Me Up! has touched the lives of thousands of people and would like to hear from you. Please email the program or call 571-331-7709 to be sure you are included in the festivities. Please note that this is part I of two-part series focusing on the history of Lift Me Up! ####
About Lift Me Up!
Lift Me Up! has provided thousands of therapeutic horseback riding lessons to children and adults with disabilities at its Great Falls stable since 1975. Lift Me Up! has launched a new program for injured veterans called BITS (Back in the Saddle). Each week over 100 riders develop new riding skills that enhance their core strength, balance, coordination and confidence. Lift Me Up! trains volunteers age 14 and older to assist with the therapeutic riding lessons as sidewalkers and leaders. This is a very special equestrian program that engages the best of humanity with extraordinary horses to provide a healing experience for those in our community who are most challenged. Each year hundreds of volunteers donate nearly 10,000 hours of service to support individuals with disabilities and their families. Maintaining a facility with 10 horses, specially trained instructors, is expensive. Lift Me Up! is a community organization that relies on financial and in-kind donations from individuals and corporations. It is a 501(c)3 corporation and participates in the United Way #8266 Combined Federal Campaign CPF # 70459. See for more information.

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