By Michael Smith | Editor

After capturing riders’ hearts for the past year, an Aiken therapy horse has captured a major award.

Buddy, one of two original horses at Great Oak Aiken Therapeutic Riding Center, has been named PATH International’s Equine of the Year for Region 3, which includes North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Buddy will be officially recognized during the PATH 3 Region Conference March 29-31 in Daniels, West Virginia. The international award winner will be announced in July.

“Buddy, like his name says, is a good friend. He sees each rider as an individual and he is a patient partner. He is always on the lookout for danger, which is his job but he never overreacts,” said Eva Finnan, an instructor at Great Oak. “He looks, he listens and then he relaxes, telling his rider, ‘all is ok, I’ve got you.’”

The PATH Equine of the Year award is judged according to the following criteria:

  • The equine’s previous experience has added value to his/her services in the field of EAAT at the nominating center.
  • The equine has an excellent attitude for work in the field of EAAT.
  • The equine’s contributions are significant to the nominating center.
  • The equine has good relationships with the participants with whom he/she interacts with at the nominating center.

“Buddy adjusts to each rider, sometimes challenging them to pay a bit more attention or to try something new, but he only does this when I think he feels the rider is ready.” Finnan said. “He is truly the horse that senses the rider’s energy. He is the teacher that we all dreamed of as kids – gentle and non-judgmental and always encouraging you to be the best you can be.”

Buddy came to Aiken in the months leading up to the grand opening at Great Oak on Feb. 14, 2018. He was donated to the equine therapy organization by Carolyn and Tom Murray of Conway.

Located at 1123 Edgefield Highway, Great Oak provides therapeutic riding for children and adults with physical, emotional, and psychological challenges. It is an affiliate of PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship).