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The Program History


The Cleveland County Hearts and Hooves program was started because a parent of a child with a disability saw a need in the community to provide the opportunity to participate in a horseback riding program designed to meet individual needs. Program participants are students at North Shelby School (Shelby City School system), which is a public special purpose school serving students with moderate to severe disabilities from Shelby City Schools, Cleveland County Schools, and Kings Mountain Schools. The Program uses a multi-faceted approach in order to accommodate the wide range of student needs.


Planning for the Hearts and Hooves Program began in 1997 as a partnership with the Cleveland County Humane Society along with local horse enthusiasts and community service organization representatives banded together to obtain donations and community support for the purchase of saddles, bareback pads, lead ropes, riding helmets and the construction of a level, fenced riding arena on the campus of North Shelby School.


The program officially began in the fall of 1998 with approximately nine volunteers, five volunteer horses, and 30 participants. During the first year of the program, riding sessions were conducted one day a week when weather permitted. With local donations and funding from the Cleveland County Humane Society, the program was able to hire a part-time riding instructor. During 1999, a formal Board of Directors was established and many accomplishments occurred including the construction of a ramp and loading facility, and the receipt of United Way Funds which were used to pay the salary of the riding instructor, purchase materials, and cover other miscellaneous costs.


By the spring of 2000 the program was able to increase the days of operation in order to add additional participants. By the end of the year, the Board had entered into serious plans for intensive community- wide fund raising endeavors while board members applied for foundation monies and grant funds to build a $90,000 covered riding arena. This covered riding arena was officially opened for operation in October of 2002. With the construction of the new riding arena, the Program is fully operational throughout the year (even in inclement weather).


The Board also received an additional Eaton grant to fund the construction of a nature riding and hiking trail through the school’s wooded property. Eaton Nature Trail was a cleared and leveled one half mile riding trail through the wooded property with a safety fence around that same property. The trail provided our riders the opportunities to learn about nature firsthand and to experience the exciting outdoors while on a therapy mount. The trail had various educational and visual stimulation for the Program’s riders.


Hearts and Hooves has experienced tremendous growth in a relatively short period of time as a result of the strong volunteer support from the local community. All volunteers (both human and equine) are provided with extensive training prior to participation in the program. This training includes disability awareness, mounting/dismounting, horse walker safety, horse behavior, communication strategies, and safety.


The Program has been able to obtain a variety of adaptive equipment, thus allowing children with a wide range of disabilities to participate in the program. Also, the donation of a large storage building allows equipment to be properly organized and maintained. Hearts and Hooves continues to receive United Way funding on an annual basis, and this funding provides funds for transportation/boarding of horses, equipment, insurance, the salary of the Program Coordinator/Instructors, and materials/supplies.

Throughout the years the Cleveland County Hearts and Hooves, Inc. Board of Directors has included representatives from the Shelby Civitans, Cleveland Community College, North Shelby School, State Farm Insurance Agency, First National Bank, and Eaton Corporation, in addition to several interested individual members of the community. 


Supporters of the program have included Cleveland County United Way, USDA Rural Development, the Knights of Columbus, Shelby Rotary, Winter House Deli, Parker Farm Service, Lail Upholstery, First National Bank, Dover Foundation, Wal-Mart Distribution Center, PPG Industries, Kiwanis, Mayflower Vehicle Systems, Cleveland Regional Medical Center, Double Shoals Market, Jerry’s Mini Mart, Confederate Supply, Cotton’s Seafood, Sandy Run Creek Horseman’s Association, Sewell Contractors, Parker Farm Service, Stagecoach Ace Hardware, S and L Mini Mart, Fox Distributing, Tops Pizza Factory, First Choice Auto, BDF Construction, RS Braswell Co., Alston Bridges, DBA Bridges Construction, Bridges Market, Cleveland Feed and Farm Supply, Cleveland Lumber, D and A Lawn Service, Fox Mountain Weavers, Lowes, Ramsey and Cooper Auctioneers, Spake Concrete, Southern States, Gardner Webb University, and Crest and Kings Mountain High Schools.


As of the 2022-2023 school year Hearts and Hooves continues to receive support from a multitude of individuals, organizations, colleges and businesses within the community. There are currently eight volunteer horses, two certified therapy dogs and 50+ trained volunteers. Some volunteers transport horses, serve as side-walkers, assist with arena clean up, conduct fund-raising, and serve as arena helpers during our sessions. 


The summer of 2023 we started our first 9 week summer program with the students of Alexander Youth Network. We had a great turn out of 11 students with much progress and fun. 

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