VIEWS: 8 PAGES: 9 POSTED ON: 4/6/2013
(1) Horses have always been a major part of my life. I have been riding since I was four years old. I love walking into the barn in the morning to hear the steady beat of horseshoes on cement, and the wonderful scent of hay and leather greeting me. There is nothing more peaceful than the serenity of the horse show grounds in the early morning. The sight of horses being exercised in the first rays of sun is simply breathtaking. Nothing makes me feel more alive than riding a horse. I love the freedom I feel when galloping and jumping in the field. I became interested in therapeutic riding when my cousin began riding at A Horse Connection, a therapeutic riding facility in Rhinebeck, New York. So far, the progress he has made has been incredible. Several weeks before the completion of this book, he was able to steer his horse by himself, with no sidewalkers or leaders. This was a huge accomplishment for him. His mother was very pleased with his achievement, but she was very nervous at the same time. There is certainly a lot of trust involved. The parents need to have confidence that the horse and the therapists are going to take care of their child. This was my inspiration for choosing to study therapeutic horsemanship for my senior thesis. Seeing the joy on faces of these riders when they come for their lesson has been extraordinary. They have all made so many improvements. One little boy who is very autistic and doesn't speak actually went up to another rider and greeted her. The most touching moment however, was when this same child came up to me, grabbed my hand, and brought me over to his horse. This was a very special moment, because it is not easy for an autistic child to reach out to others. My project is a study of the ways in which therapeutic horsemanship helps people with various disabilities, both emotional and physical. This project consists of visiting two therapeutic facilities, CTREE and A Horse Connection, to interview the therapists and watch the lessons. I saw many different riders, and chose three to focus on. Using this information, I decided to create this book to help show how therapeutic riding is beneficial. In therapeutic riding the connections must be made between therapist, rider, horse, and parent. Who knows what progress can be made when this connection is made. (2/3) Center for Therapeutic Riding on the East End (CTREE) is located at Wolffer Estate Stables in Sagaponack, New York. CTREE is run by Amanda Ross and Karen Bocksel. The main focus of CTREE is developmental disabilities, such as Autism, ADHD/ADD, sensory issues, and developmental delays. The instructors at CTREE are certified with North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA). The sessions follow NARHA guidelines and are based on the horse's unique three-dimensional movement. They use changes in gait, postural positioning, and direction to help stimulate the rider's visual, motor, and vestibular systems. Riders at CTREE also participate in other activities, such as grooming and horse care, which aid in the function of their fine motor skills. Each rider's needs are evaluated based on the participation of parents and caregivers. This helps CTREE decide whether or not they can safely and effectively meet their needs. Amanda Ross is the President and Founder of CTREE. She has been riding since she was six, and has had formal training in dressage and stadium jumping. Amanda was inspired to begin this program several years ago after seeing the film "Autism Speaks," which raised public awareness about autism. She received a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and a M.A. from New York University. She is a Certified Riding Instructor with NARHA. Karen Bocksel, CTREE's Program Director, has been involved with the therapeutic riding industry for nearly twenty years. She is a NARHA Advanced Instructor, NARHA State Chair, and President of the New York State Therapeutic Riding Organization (NYSTRO). She has worked with Therapeutic Riding at Centenary and Somerset Hills Handicapped Riding Center. Karen served four years as NARHA Region Two Representative. (4/5) A Horse Connection is located at the Southlands Foundation in Rhinebeck, New York. This program is run by Nancy King, MS, OTR/L. There are about ten ponies used for riding, as well as three miniature horses for other therapeutic purposes such as going to nursing homes and schools for special needs. The most common disability that A Horse Connection works with is cerebral palsy, but they also help with Autism, ADHD/ADD, schizophrenia, spina bifida, depression, and traumatic brain injury, among others. A Horse Connection hopes for their riders to become as independent as possible, and be as confident as anyone else their age despite any setbacks. Other animals, such as donkeys, goats, sheep, and pigs, are located near the farm. Sometimes the riders will visit these animals during their session. Sessions at A Horse Connection focus on increasing attention span, coping skills, problem solving, and memory. Nancy King started out as an occupational therapist at the Anderson School for developmentally disabled children. She approached Southlands Foundation when she was looking for a home for her program. At the same time, Southlands was looking for someone to run a therapeutic program for them. Their similar views made it easy to incorporate the program. Nancy is a NARHA Registered Therapist, a member of the American Hippotherapy Association, Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA) and the New York State Occupational Therapy Association. Some people at AHC are trained to work with both horses and disabilities. Some people are trained for one or the other, and some people have no training at all. AHC provides additional training for everyone, regardless of experience. (5/6) Rope bridles are used because they are more comfortable for the horse to wear. Reins and a lead rope are attached to the bridle. A bareback pad has a handle on the front for extra support. It does not have stirrups, which might restrict the movement of an unbalanced rider. This Velcro belt has handles for the sidewalkers to hold on to if the rider loses balance. There are sidewalkers on both sides of the horse. A ramp provides an easier way for riders with wheelchairs or walkers to get on the horse. Today, Nick is going to ride a pony named Root Beer. But before he can ride, he must get his horse ready for the lesson. This process is called tacking up. Root Beer wears different equipment than the other horses. Instead of wearing a leather saddle and bridle, she wears a special bareback pad, and a rope halter on her face. When Root Beer is tacked up, Nick puts fly spray on her legs to make her more comfortable. Sometimes the riders will help groom their ponies. There is a specific order in which a horse must be groomed, so this helps the rider learn sequence. (7/8) There are a wide variety of exercises that can assist in the improvement of the rider. Some exercises can work well for everyone, and some are designed for specific problems. Riding incorporates activities such as left and right differentiation, increased body awareness, and better motor skills. The rhythmic movement of the horse helps to stimulate nerves. Rings are used to improve coordination. The sidewalker varies where she holds the rings. Another technique is to have the rider hold out their arms. The sidewalker will then place the rings on the rider's arms, and they will have to hold their arms up to avoid dropping the rings. Being able to identify the parts of a horse is very helpful to the riders. A horse is drawn on a board, and the parts are written on Velcro name tags. The rider reads the word and then places it on the appropriate area of the drawing. Riding backwards and sideways helps to strengthen muscles and activates extension and trunk control. Some riding arenas have letters on the wall. The therapist can ask the rider to steer their horse to a certain letter, or spell out a word. Steering and stopping the horse helps the rider to learn control. It can also help the rider gain confidence, because they are making the horse do what they ask with very little help. Riders with very good balance may even be able to trot. Trotting is quicker than walking, so the rider must have enough upper body strength. When the horse trots, the rider is constantly being thrown off balance, requiring the rider's muscles to contract and relax in an attempt to rebalance. Other activities can include reaching for the ears and tail, twisting at the waist, doing arm circles, and holding their arms up or to the side. (9/10) Rachael is only in Kindergarten, but she has no trouble sounding out the names of the parts of a horse and recognizing where they belong. Rachael was hesitant to ride without a leader at first, but she has been gaining confidence. She is now able to steer her horse by herself around jumps and cones in an obstacle course. Nick practices Around the World. Around The World is a very common strengthening exercise. The rider moves from a forward position to sideways, then backwards, sideways, and back to forward. William recognizes letters on paper cards. Karen puts the letters in different areas of the ring, and asks William to point to a certain letter. Sometimes he spells out words, such as his name or "horse". (11) Rachael has a mild case of autism. She is easily distracted by other things in the ring such as a vest hanging on a fence, a dog, or other people in the middle of the ring. She has formed a bond with her horse Katy, and gives her a hug after her session. William has a very severe case of autism. He is unable to speak, and has a hard time balancing. William's first session lasted only a few minutes, but since then the length of his session has been increasing. In William's most recent session he was able to right himself without help from the sidewalkers for the first time. Nick rides horses to help him with his posture and other developmental issues. He has shown great progress so far. In one of his recent sessions, he rode in a regular saddle. He was able to steer his horse without the help of sidewalkers or a leader. He loves coming to his sessions and never seems to stop smiling. (12) A part of what makes this kind of therapy unique is having an animal present as a third party. The horses are essentially the co-therapists. They are not judgmental, whereas a human therapist will take notes and monitor the students. Children feel more comfortable around the therapists and the horse than they would around only the therapist. The horses are carefully selected based on temperament and soundness. They have to learn to stop quickly, turn fast, and walk without pulling. They learn to be more responsive both physically and mentally. They also have to be relaxed so that the riders are more comfortable around them. The sessions can often be mentally stressful for the horse. They try very hard to keep an unbalanced rider from falling by shifting position, and shut out loud noises that the rider cannot control. Being closely surrounded by many people is also contrary to the nature of horses. Each horse has their own unique personality. Mosley has a very wide back and a smooth stride that is very comforting to someone with limited mobility. Katy has a short pony stride, which provides more stimulus to the rider. Root Beer is a mixture of both. She has a more average build, with a quick pony stride. Mosley's smooth walk is very relaxing to William. Nick helps tack up his horse. Nick holds on while Root Beer trots. Amanda asks Rachael if she wants to try steering on her own today. Nick reaches for Root Beer's tail. Nick hands the rings to Nancy. Rachael steers Katy around a water jump. William's father walks alongside to help him stay on. (13) Hippotherapy uses the horses' movement for occupational, speech, or physical therapy. Riders do not learn specific skills. Horses are chosen based on unique movement qualities. They need to be tolerant of unusual movements by the rider. The rider does not have control of the horse. The leader is responsible for controlling the horse. Hippotherapy is provided by a licensed therapist in Speech, Occupational, or Physical therapy. The benefits of hippotherapy can be physical improvements, such as posture, balance, and mobility, as well as psychological improvements in behavior and communication skills. Therapeutic riding has more of an emphasis on riding skills such as steering and stopping the horse. These sessions are designed to help people with special needs fulfill their desire to ride horses. Sidewalkers are used to help keep the rider balanced. The leader can either be the instructor, or someone trained and supervised by the instructor. Horses used for therapeutic riding must have a good temperament, because they can either be lead by a leader or controlled independently by the student. The rider usually has enough balance and head control to sit in a forward position on the horse. (14) Autism: Autism is a severe developmental disorder beginning within the first three years of life. Autistic children may have delays in language, play, or social interaction. Language develops either slowly or not at all, so communications are made with gestures instead of words. Autistic children can be extra sensitive to touch and unresponsive to pain. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): ADHD/ADD is characterized by hyperactivity or inattention. Children with ADHD have difficulty with organization, such as forgetting to turn in assignments or not managing their time well. People with ADD are usually average or above-average intelligence. Asperger Syndrome: Asperger Syndrome is described as a form of autism. Children with Aspergers may have difficulties with social skills or reading body language. They have obsessive routines and prefer sameness. They can also be overly sensitive to sounds or lights that no one else seems to notice. Cerebral Palsy: Cerebral palsy is a group of chronic conditions that affect body movement and muscle coordination. It is caused by damage to one or more specific areas of the brain, which usually occurs before, during, or shortly after birth. Cerebral palsy can cause muscle tightness, difficulty breathing leading to postural difficulties, involuntary movement, and problems with speech, hearing, or sight. Multiple Sclerosis: Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. Symptoms can be mild or severe, and include numbness in the limbs, paralysis, or loss of vision. The severity of multiple sclerosis varies from one person to another. Spina Bifida: Spina bifida is a birth defect that affects the spinal column. It causes various degrees of leg paralysis, spine curvature, and coordination problems. Unbalanced muscle strength can cause deformities in the spine, hip, or foot. Another common problem is an accumulation of fluid in the brain.
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