By Raiza Giorgi

After just five riding lessons at the Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Program, Jen Petersen said, she has already noticed a difference in her son’s movement and behavior.

Jayce was born prematurely, at just 23 weeks, in the car on the way to the hospital. He was given only a slim chance for survival, but after 155 days in the NICU at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, the Petersens brought their son home happy and healthy. Born at 1 pound, 1 ounce and 9 inches long, he is now 3 years old and thriving.

“Jayce’s hips have opened a bit more and he is already getting stronger. He gave me a thumbs up today and a smile, and that makes it worth it,” Petersen said at the program’s Riders Roundup show on Oct. 27.

The roundup was a showcase for the families and friends of riders who participate in the program. Students competed in an obstacle course of their choosing and all students were given participation trophies and a free barbecue lunch.

“This is really a day to celebrate our students and show off what they have learned to their friends and family,” said Robin Serritslev, executive director of the program.

Members of Lucky Clover 4-H brought a petting zoo of various farm animals, and the local National Charity League chapter set up games to play.

The Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Program’s mission is to provide equine-assisted activities to children and adults with physical, cognitive, social, emotional or other challenges, regardless of their ability to pay. It serves more than 300 local people annually, including veterans, people with special needs, and at-risk youth.

For more information on the program, log onto or call 805-350-2229.