A Horse

The horse has been an animal I have little experience around. They are the main focus involved in many shows and movies. A horse has often been an animal of intrigue during my life. Though my only time on horseback was on vacation in my youth. It was an exciting experience and I couldn’t tell you why it didn’t happen again. This week we ventured to a horse farm in the area. Part of researching different forms of therapy for helping those with disabilities. More specifically, looking for ways to help cerebral palsy patients. The riding center based in the nearby town of Redmond is one of the largest in the country. It is the largest in our home state of Washington. Begun by a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis, she found riding her personal horse reduced the progression of MS. Today, the ridding center helps enhance the lives of kids and adults with 100 different disabilities. The act of riding a horse has can have a positive impact on lives in more ways than I understood. They use the horse as part of physical, occupational and speech therapy. One of the most fascinating aspects was the positive emotional impact a horse has on its rider. Helping improve self-esteem, confidence, and independence. All I could think by the time we left was, “so, can I try.”

We entered the riding facility into a greeting area. A comfortable building housing offices for the staff. The welcome counter was running left to right covering a fairly long distance. We signed in and our meeting began just after our signatures were complete. Our things were set in an office to which we would return after a tour. Excitement flowed through my body as we started exiting the welcoming center. This would be the first facility of its kind I had walked around. Getting to be walk through stables was going to be a completely new experience. We ventured out a set of double doors, leading us down a path and into the stable. Walking down the middle with horse stables to our left and right was incredible. I learned to gently place the back of my hand around their nose and mouth. Touching some of the horses, but not each of them. Each horse appeared strong and healthy, ready to help their riders improve. The stables had small bios on the horse of occupation. We learned some names and breeds of the different horses. Not every stable was occupied, as many of the horses were out doing rides, and therapy.

Leaving the stables took us outside to look at the paddocks. Some were occupied, but most looked empty. Having never looked at a group of paddocks, they looked like rows of white fences. As we stood, carrying on our discussion, a couple of rides came near. There looked to be three people supporting the horse, with the special needs rider mounted on top. One person was walking on either side of the horse, as one walked out front guiding the direction. The ride was along a path that seemed to boarder the paddock area, at least from our viewing point. We stood in the late afternoon sun, watching the riders walk toward us, then turn around, heading back down the trail. It was a neat experience to watch an actual ride in progress. Our walking conversation took us up into a lounge. The lounge overlooking a huge indoor arena, where a therapy session was in progress. The window we were looking through was one way glass, allowing us to look at, but the people in the arena couldn’t see back through the glass. We stood, enjoying the view out into the arena, learning some interesting facts about therapy. They conduct forty-five-minute therapy sessions. Where a half hour of the time would be spent on the horse, with the additional fifteen minutes being conducted in a therapy room. The fifteen minutes would be more of traditional therapy. It was yet another fascinating part of our day.

The most exciting part of our day was listening to the improvements gained from riding. There seem to be many ways a horse can improve disabilities. One of the ways catching my attention was the improvement to cerebral palsy symptoms. Something many of us appear to have in common would be our challenges with balance. It seems no matter the position on the impact of cerebral palsy, balance becomes an ongoing challenge. Going into our meeting this week, I didn’t have an accurate understanding of a horse inside of the challenge of balance. It wasn’t known to me how much a horse simulates walking for its rider. It was learned that this simulation of walking helps the rider learn how to walk. The motion of riding the horse rotates the pelvis in ways to provide strength and endurance. Those two gained qualities lead to providing the improvement of walking. We learned during our meeting about kids with cerebral palsy who have spent less time of their day in a wheelchair. One of the causes for less time in their wheelchair has been time spent on horseback. The relationship between the horse and improved walking did nothing but inspire and warm my heart. We had many heartwarming moments throughout our meeting.

As we get the opportunity to tour facilities providing support for people with cerebral palsy, commonalities may arise. It was an idea escaping my mind until a commonality was upon us this week. When touring a school in our area a couple weeks ago, we came upon something interesting. The school, geared toward helping children with special needs was set up with observation rooms. Giving parents the opportunity to watch their children interact without the knowledge of the child. When learning of these room at the school, it felt like one of the most fascinating things. It would seem to provide parents the opportunity to see skills and challenges that might not present while in their presence. Also, the chance to view the child functioning with increased independence. The therapeutic riding center was also equipped with these observation rooms. In a similar way of working at the school, they work at the riding center. It would seem to provide children with the freedom to bond with their horse and parents the opportunity to watch the bonding. Possibly learning ways to help facilitate the interaction when the child is away from the center.

Learning new things about the animal was another interesting part of our day. There has been so much I don’t understand about a horse. The connection between the horse and its rider sounded like one that could be transformational. They seem to share many things with the person riding them. Reacting to the emotion and balance of the rider. We heard stories of the horse making adjustments if their rider begins to lose their balance. Making slight adjustments to re-stabilize the special needs rider. The horses sound incredible about providing safety and security for the rider. They feel many of the emotions of their rider. So, if someone were to be feeling anxious, the horse too would experience those emotions of anxiety. We heard stories of the rider taking a deep breath, followed by the horse taking a deep breath. This kind of connection between horse and rider would seem to teach many things. If the horse reacts to you, it would appear important to moderate your own emotions. Learning to take into account how you’re effecting the horse. Showing the importance of maintaining composure, learning how to rely on each other. The scenario would seem to teach the special needs children the responsibility of being relied on emotionally. It was yet another thing causing intrigue around the riding process.

The day was full of astounding information. It was a blessing to get the opportunity to tour this therapeutic riding center. As the search for multiple ways to help improve cerebral palsy continues. There does seem to be many different options when it comes to gaining improvement. Because cerebral palsy isn’t getting worse on its own, it feels important to explores all the ways to improve movement. We probably should try not to get ourselves wrapped up in wondering the best way toward improvement. While we continue exploring all the options, one might not be better than another. All these ideas around moving forward can serve different purposes. Finding forms of improvement that complement each other, helping work cerebral palsy from different angles. It was amazing to learn how riding a horse can help with walking. To the point of reducing the time someone might spend in a wheelchair. Or how the bonding with a horse can do wonders for confidence and independence. Walking away from Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Redmond, Wa, I learned how much we have in common. The visit not only had me finding more information about how riding a horse leads to cerebral palsy improvement, but has me wanting to do some riding. Taking my own advice and following new ideas to help my CP symptoms.

For more information please contact Executive Director Paula J. Del Giudice at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center.

425-882-1554 ext. 103

PaulaD@littlebit.org


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