VARHA, the Venango Area Riding for the Handicapped Association, was founded in March of 1980. VARHA has been providing therapeutic horseback riding for children, adolescents, and adults with special needs ever since.

Photos by: Joel Lux, VARHA volunteer

Photos by: Joel Lux, VARHA volunteer

Dr. Louis and Mary Wagner, considered by many as the founders of VARHA, had a daughter Amy who was confined to a wheelchair from the affects of Polio.

The Wagners contacted Kay Frey, an area horse owner, to discuss horseback riding therapy for Amy. The first several therapy classes were held at Kay's parents farm in Rocky Grove, with Amy riding Kay's horse 'Chubby'.

The classes were later moved to the Venango County 4-H Fairgrounds, where there was also a classroom to teach grooming and proper horse care.  Riding classes were held in Phillips Arena, an indoor arena, and outdoors on the fairgrounds as weather permitted.

In 1994, 40 acres of land was purchased from Polk Center and the current facility became a reality.  A 13-stall barn and outdoor arena were built in 1995, utilizing mainly volunteer labor.  An indoor, insulated arena was completed in 1997, with an office and classroom being added at a later date.

A rotational gazing and pasture watering system for the horses was installed in 2011.

An additional 8.14 acres was purchased in 2012.  An old house and rubble from an old barn were cleared from the newly acquired land in 2013.

The remaining buildings are used to house farm equipment and for storage.  The added land is being used for haying and outdoor riding trails.

VARHA continues to grow and help more members of the community each year.  The program offerings were expanded over the last several years to include therapeutic riding programs for families in drug & alcohol and mental health treatment, 'at risk' youth, and young riders (ages 3-7) with documented special needs.  VARHA also offers a 'Horses for Healing' program to assist military veterans and other adults who have experienced some sort of life-changing trauma.