Horse therapy offers benefits for special needs
by Melissa Snyder
Dec 12, 2010 | 2132 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print

 TALL IN THE SADDLE — Adam McDonald gets ready to mount the Western saddle, with a little help from some friends in the covered arena at Reinbow Riders Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center.
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As a loving parent, June McDonald wants to provide the best for her son Adam, which is one reason she chose equine-assisted activity at Reinbow Riders Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center. Adam, who lights up with joy on the two days a week he gets to go to Reinbow Riders, will tell you it’s just a fun place to be where he has a lot of friends.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant, Adam needs continual stretching and strengthening of his underused muscles. He also needs therapy for balance and his stability.

The United Cerebral Palsy organization, a leading advocate for children and adults with cerebral palsy, stated cerebral palsy is a non-progressive condition in which parts of the brain do not completely develop or become damaged. When this occurs, body movement and muscle coordination are affected.

“Since Adam’s cerebral palsy is more involved in his lower extremities, horseback riding fills these physical therapy needs in every way,” said June. “From the moment he stretches to mount the horse to the times he does a ‘two-point’ stance (a standing balance on the horse), horseback riding is addressing Adam’s physical needs.”

Before moving to Cleveland, the McDonalds lived in Atlanta, where Adam participated in a Special Olympics equestrian program. Although it was for just a short period of time, it was obvious to his family he loved the newfound activity. Due to the long waiting list, participant slots and available horses in the Special Olympics’ equestrian program, Adam was only able to ride for two six-week periods.

As soon as June saw the benefit her son gained physically from the program, combined with the pleasure he received from the experience, she wished he was able to ride more.

“I was so excited when I read a Cleveland Daily Banner article after moving back to Cleveland in 2005, telling about Reinbow Riders Tri-State Therapeutic Riding year-round program. I immediately called to learn more about the program and ultimately enrolled him,” June said.

According to June the lessons were so affordable that she signed Adam up for two lessons each week. For the past two years he has been actively riding in the program and benefiting greatly both physically and mentally.

“Most mornings when he first wakes up he asks me if this is the day he goes to ride horses and see his friends,” said June. It is something he really looks forward to. When I say ‘Yes, today is the day,’ he is thrilled.”

The two weekly riding lessons are something June considers two inexpensive physical therapy sessions, since Adam’s muscles are being stretched and strengthened and his balance and posture addressed, all while having fun — so much fun that he is not aware, nor cares about the physical benefits to his body.

While the physical advantage of riding initially drew June to the program, there were unexpected gains she quickly observed in her son. Each week she noticed his self-confidence and self-esteem were increasing. She noticed the positive change in him while in the Reinbow Riders stables.

“It is like he takes on a different personality while in the Tri-State environment. As a mother, it makes my heart leap.”

These emotional assets of the program are something June primarily credits to the staff at the riding program, where her son and every student receives individual attention and all are made to feel special regardless of their struggles.

Other parents agree with June on how evident it is the staff loves what they do, as well as their love for each of the riders in the program. While Adam has never exhibited a fear of riding, June has witnessed other riders having difficulty with their fear.

“Through loving encouragement of the staff, even these riders learn to overcome their fear and gain such self-confidence in doing so,” June said.

Therapeutic horseback riding has quickly become a successful way for improving motor skills and physical disabilities, according to the Horses and Humans Research Foundation. Experts say it promotes muscular control, flexibility, balance, improved posture and develops spine muscles.

As the horse walks, the motion mimics the human body in motion. In the saddle the human body responds to the rhythmic motions of the horse, stimulating the cardiovascular system, normalizing muscle tone and improving hand-eye coordination. Another benefit is how it positively affects attention and the neurosystem.

Denise Wright, Certified Hippotheraphy instructor of Reinbow Riders, said Hippotherapy Therapeutic Riding is specific to each rider.

“Depending on his or her abilities, a lesson is planned with treatment goals fixed on each rider’s improvement,” Wright said. “A professional instructor uses the horse’s movement as a tool to benefit the rider and reach their treatment goals.”

When LeAnne Smiley became executive director in 2008, she aimed to continue the productiveness of the organization. With her ambitious plans and determination she plans to continue offering the best in therapeutic riding for individuals who are physically, mentally or emotionally challenged.

Founded in 1999, the nonprofit equine organization moved to its permanent home at Tri-State Exhibition Center in 2005.