April 2, 2024

Danielle Denlinger

3 Minutes

Danielle Denlinger ’16 has always loved horses.

The York College alumna, who graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science, volunteered with a therapeutic riding program during her coursework. This experience only furthered her desire to work with both horses and people with special needs.

After completing her Certified Therapeutic Instructor Certification through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International, a professional organization for advancement for those working in equine services, and also earning her Master Level Therapeutic Instructor Certification from the Council for Education and Certification in Therapeutic Horsemanship (CECTH), for which she also serves on the Board of Directors, Denlinger founded Bridlepath Equine Center, a nonprofit therapeutic horsemanship program in Quarryville, PA, which offers services to southern Lancaster County and surrounding areas.

“I love working with our participants and seeing the joy that riding and horsemanship brings to their lives. It is by far the most rewarding part of the job, and I wouldn't change it for the world!” she says.

Coming Home

Denlinger has been working in the therapeutic riding industry for almost 10 years, having worked at a multitude of programs throughout York County. Some of those years were spent completing volunteer hours for internships as part of her education at York College.

“York College was the right choice for me, because through the classes I had to complete volunteer hours. I completed those at a therapeutic riding program, which is what started my desire and passion for the industry,” she says. “For my senior internship, I shadowed a therapeutic horsemanship instructor for a semester. The day of graduation, I left to go to a certification course, which was about a yearlong process. Without York College, I wouldn't have even thought about pursuing a career in therapeutic riding. I couldn't imagine my life without it.”

When it came time for Denlinger to select a potential location for Bridlepath, her hometown of Lancaster County seemed an obvious choice. She shared her vision with the Kauffman family, who own Trailside Farm in Quarryville.

“I had the opportunity to share my dream with the Kauffman family, and soon after, the opportunity came up for them to purchase a farm. They asked if I would be interested in partnering with them,” she explains. “Lee and Kris Kauffman own Trailside Farm, and then my nonprofit, Bridlepath Equine Center, leases the property from them. The Kauffmans also had a desire and passion to serve individuals with special needs.”

Bridlepath opened for services on Sept. 12, with most of the projects required to get the facility up and running finished. The land, which was previously a crop farm, needed significant renovation, including a pasture and run-in shelter for the three program horses. The existing buildings have been remodeled to house a family and volunteer lounge, an office, a tack room, an indoor and outdoor arena, and a sensory trail that goes through the woods on the property. Many volunteers have already completed training, and there have been numerous new inquiries from potential volunteers who will need to complete training before entering the program.

The Center will serve individuals with special needs from four years old, with no maximum age limit for participants. Denlinger plans to operate year-round, with both private and group (no more than three participants) weekly lessons. She plans to include both mounted and unmounted activities, focusing on relationship-building with the horses and gaining independence in various skills. 

“Our mission is to pave a pathway of growth and independence for individuals with special needs utilizing therapeutic horsemanship and specialized group programming, while also benefiting their diagnoses,” she says.

Seeing the program’s progress has been rewarding for Denlinger. She’s been able to witness everything come together, from the progress on the facilities to working with future participants.

“So far, my favorite part of starting a new program has been seeing the progress of the facilities from when we started to now. It has been really exciting completing our participant intakes and meeting our future participants,” she says. “In previous programs that I've worked at, my ultimate favorite part is seeing our participants succeed while gaining independence, having fun, and simply enjoying their time with the horses.”

Looking Ahead

While working with horses and special-needs populations has been a joy for Denlinger, the administrative end of things has been a “learning curve,” she says. 

“There has definitely been a learning curve from the administrative end in making sure we have everything lined up with insurance, policies and procedures, nonprofit development, etc. Being a nonprofit, we rely heavily on donations and grants, so it's been a lot of community outreach, as well,” she explains. “That has been one of the trickier parts for me—being comfortable asking if people and businesses would be willing to donate or sponsor our program. I could not do this on my own and appreciate our board of directors immensely. They each bring something different to the table, and that has aided significantly in our growth so far.”

In addition to the help of the Bridlepath Equine Center Board of Directors, Denlinger cites her training as a Behavioral Science major as helping prepare her for the administrative work she’s doing now.

“I was a Behavioral Science major with an emphasis on Human Services. Having a wide range of classes in a variety of topics was helpful, especially in areas like grant writing and nonprofit development,” she says.

Bridlepath is gearing up for an open house on Saturday, Oct. 7, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the Center is currently accepting participant and volunteer inquiries.

“We are so excited to open for services and serve individuals with special needs using the incredible nature of horses. I feel very humbled and honored for the opportunity and am looking forward to seeing the impact our program can have on our community,” Denlinger adds.