Horseback riding therapyWritten by Danielle Portteus | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For the last 18 months, Kit Miller’s daughter Trinity, 13, has participated in therapeutic riding at Vail Meadows Equestrian Center in Oregon.
“She always wanted a pony,” Miller said. “I thought maybe we should find out about horseback riding.”
Miller said she and her husband Bob went to the center to see what it had to offer Trinity, who has cognitive and developmental disabilities.
“It’s unbelievable that she could do things in just four months of riding,” she said. “We noticed her motor skills improved slightly, and she can walk down stairs.”
Miller said her daughter has gained confidence.
“She used to be very passive,” she said. “The riding makes a whole lot of difference in the area of her assertiveness.”
Therapeutic riding is the ability for any disabled person to help strengthen themselves through balance to assist in daily activities, Walter Bell, executive director, said.
Bell said the center opened in 1998 as a non-profit therapeutic
riding center for people with physical and mental disabilities. Now, the center is a for-profit operation.
“The organization is designed to help disabled people earn some independence,” Bell said. “Our goal is not to have to turn anybody away, and we will work to make it affordable for them.”
Bell said the center offers equipment to assist disabled people onto horses. “We have special saddles for people with special needs,” he said.
Bell said three people typically assist the rider: two side-walkers, who make sure the individual does not fall over, and a leader, who guides the horse. Riders who can balance on their own do not need side-walkers, he said.
The riders groom the horses before they ride. During the one-hour sessions, they walk around an arena to warm their muscles, and they play a series of games including basketball, ‘Simon Says’ and horseshoes to keep their bodies moving. At the end of each class, riders are quizzed on parts of the horse.
Bell said many local doctors recommend the therapy because it is a way to stimulate muscles in the body.
Before a horse can be used for therapeutic riding, it must be certified through the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), Bell said.
Vail Meadows has 10 certified horses. Instructors require certification through NARHA as well.
Toledo Police Sgt. Mike McGee has volunteered at the center for five years.
“It brings a lot of enjoyment for the riders,” he said.
McGee said he has two rules for each class. “First, I want to make sure all riders are safe,” he said. “Then, I want to make sure the riders get enjoyment out of riding.”
Karen Ryan learned about the program from her 22-year-old daughter Jessica’s teacher.
“She thought it would be a good social opportunity for Jessie,” Karen said. “(Jessie) has participated in the program for three years, and it has helped her with her confidence and outlook on life.” Ryan said the riding also has helped stretch Jessie’s muscles and improve her balance.
Annette Textor heard about the center through word-of-mouth.
“I knew a lady who worked there and said it was great for kids with disabilities,” she said. “It helps with posture and coordination.”
Textor’s daughter Megan, 20, has Downs Syndrome.
“It has helped her … to converse with people,” she said. “It has helped her to write legibly and has been a 100 percent benefit.”
Prices for therapeutic riding start at $35 per class for each student. There currently is a 40-person waiting list, Bell said.
In addition to therapeutic riding, Vail Meadows offers horse boarding, independent classes for English and Western riding, horse shows, barrel racing and children’s summer camps.
For more information, call (419) 697-8960 or visit www.vailmeadows.com.