By Linda Breazeale
MSU Extension Service
Donald Vowell of Ackerman does not mind driving a little farther for therapeutic horseback riding.
Vowell, who has a spinal injury from a car accident, began riding horses for therapy when the Mississippi State University program was located at the Mississippi Horse Park south of Starkville. Today, he drives to the Elizabeth A. Howard 4-H Therapeutic Riding and Activity Center in West Point once a week when classes are in session.
“It’s a good drive but worth it. I go with another young man to ride now, and it’s good to have more people riding at the same time,” Vowell said.
“Therapeutic horseback riding is more exercise than people would think. It’s been good to change up therapeutic activities and a treat to get to ride.”
Vowell said in the early years of therapy at the horse park, riding was limited to Mondays because of other activities taking place at the facility. Fewer riders were able to participate.
“It’s good to have a place to call our own,” he said. “The move to West Point has worked out great.”
The MSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Program has laid the foundation for the therapeutic riding program in Starkville and West Point, and now MSU will assume the care and future improvements for 63 acres that comprise the Jimmy Bryan 4-H Youth Complex.
The 4-H Club Foundation of Mississippi Inc. is turning over the reins for land used for youth and outdoor activities such as therapeutic horseback riding and all-terrain vehicle safety training.
“The 4-H motto is ‘to make the best better,’ and that is what we are doing here,” said Harry Dendy, chair of the 4-H Foundation. “We have great activities taking place on the property, and those will continue.”
Dendy said to maintain the property at its best or to make improvements, the foundation needed to place the land under the care of MSU. Additionally, the university will assume liability and utility expenses as activities on the property continue and expand.
The Jimmy Bryan 4-H Youth Complex, valued in excess of $1 million, is located behind the Mossy Oak Mall off of Old Starkville Road. It includes a nature trail, the Mississippi Farm Bureau 4-H ATV Training Center, the Southern Ionics 4-H Environmental Center, and the Elizabeth A. Howard 4-H Therapeutic Riding and Activity Center. A 4-H shooting range is still in the developmental stage but has been used for archery, air rifle, and air pistol shooting.
Bryan donated the land to the 4-H Foundation in 2001. After years of planning, financial gifts from various donors enabled the construction to begin in 2009 on the therapeutic riding arena and additional buildings promoting outdoor activities.
MSU Extension Service Director Gary Jackson said that all programming on the property will be managed exclusively through the Extension Service.
“The mission of the Jimmy Bryan property remains the same: serving 4-H and youth development,” Jackson said. “Signage and credit for past donations will remain.”
Jackson expressed the desire to expand office and classroom options.
“It would be helpful to have MSU Extension employees on-site throughout the work week to accommodate increased activities and maintain the property,” he said. “We are very proud of the growth in the therapeutic riding program, and the other activities located there have the same growth potential. This change in ownership will help us pursue bigger dreams than we have been able to imagine in the past.”
Jackson said along with the youth programs, the property is home to a nesting and bedding area and a nature trail, both ideal for teaching visitors about wildlife, forestry, and related topics.
“The vision that started with Jimmy Bryan will grow as young people learn valuable lessons on this land for many generations to come,” Jackson said.
In addition to construction ventures developed by MSU, the property has benefited from West Point officials and Clay County supervisors, who assisted with water, sewer, and road projects.