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How Therapeutic Horseback Riding Can Change One’s Life

In 2017, the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation reported, “equine-assisted activities are clearly a viable intervention option for participants with impairments in balance, gross and fine motor function, gait, spasticity, and coordination”. This study is just one of many throughout the past several decades showcasing how therapeutic horseback riding positively changes the lives of children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities. 

Therapeutic Riding on Thoroughbreds (TROT) is located on Meditation Lane in Atkinson. Founder/Therapeutic Riding Instructor Jonathan Jae Kyung Hall began riding horses when he was a kid, and wants people of all abilities to experience the joy of horseback riding. Currently, TROT offers 1:1 therapeutic riding lessons, and therapeutic horsemanship lessons where participants learn skills in grooming, feeding, and taking care of the horses. “The ability to control a horse as well as one’s body inspires self-confidence, responsibility, and teamwork. Best of all, it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, which creates a special relationship between rider and horse and promotes personal challenges,” their website states. The first lesson is free when prospective riders are looking for therapeutic riding as an option for recreational therapy. 

TROT is a supporter of the Thoroughbred Incentive Program, a program that encourages the retraining of horses after completing careers in racing or breeding. Three of the barn’s horses were rescued and/or adopted. 

Therapeutic horseback riding has greatly improved the life of Danica Camarda. She takes lessons at Atkinson Riding Academy – also located on Meditation Lane. Priscilla Camarda (Danica’s mom) said, “Ever since Danica started riding she has been more stable on her feet. In the past, when she would walk her legs would be weak and she would walk in a clumpy way. At school, the teachers noticed how Danica was becoming more stable on her feet. We reported back to the teachers that Danica had been gaining strength through her horseback riding.”

Therapeutic riding has allowed Danica, who is a 13-year-old with autism, to grow socially as well. “When she is in the arena there are often other girls riding. Danica will sometimes mimic them and socialize with them. This socialization has allowed her to build self-confidence,” Priscilla said. 

While the Atkinson Riding Academy doesn’t specialize in therapeutic riding – they were fortunate to meet Dawn Bruneau who used to ride and teach at Ironstone Farm (Andover, MA) – a barn that does specialize in therapeutic riding. Priscilla said her daughter has been riding for about six years and has formed a close bond both with Dawn (who is well versed in helping riders improve muscle coordination), and Dawn’s daughter. The barn is considerate when it comes to pairing Danica with a gentle horse – and has a favorite horse named Sheila. 

Renee Austin’s six-year-old daughter Lucy has been greatly impacted by horseback riding at Greenwood Stables (Derry). “Lucy first tried horseback riding when a church down the road held a festival and offered free pony rides. When she was on the pony, I could immediately see the change in her behavior. For the next few days she was much more relaxed” Renee said. Soon after, Lucy (who has autism) began riding a horse named Hope at Greenwood where her balance improved, learned how to better connect her brain pathway and thoughts to her muscles, she formed a strong connection with the horse. While the barn doesn’t specialize in therapeutic riding – they met someone who works there who is familiar with this type of riding and has helped Lucy with skills such as posting. Even though there are barns in Concord that specialize in therapeutic riding, Renee has seen benefits of going somewhere more local. “If she sees someone from the barn at a fundraiser, or knows someone else who goes to Greenwood she is more likely to socialize and talk to them about it.” 

While Lucy is currently taking a break from riding because her favorite horse is injured, there is a chance she will someday return to riding. 

The University of New Hampshire offers a therapeutic riding program. The webpage reads, “The UNH Therapeutic Riding Program adapts equine activities to allow for participation of riders over the age of 5 with cognitive, physical and emotional challenges. Activities take place in a normal equine environment, augmented with therapeutic games and activities. Adaptations are diagnosis-specific and focus on maximizing the abilities of each individual, rather than concentrating on disabilities.” The sessions take place weekly and are group-based. Visit their website by clicking the following link HERE to learn more about the application process.

Cindy Burke, Therapeutic Riding Program Director said UNH offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Equine Studies with a concentration in Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) as well as an EAAT minor. You can learn more about it by visiting the webpage HERE.

Promoting hippotherapy (a physical, occupational, and speech therapy that utilizes the natural gait and movement of a horse to provide motor, and sensory input) and therapeutic horseback riding is important to me. I rode horses throughout my entire childhood at Ironstone Farm and Windrush Farms (Boxford, MA). Hippotherapy helped me tremendously when it came to gaining strength. When I first started riding, I had a leader and two side walkers and by the time I was in high school, I rode much more independently navigating through obstacle courses, trotting, and being in control of the horse. I participated in Windrush Farm’s annual horse riding competition for several years and even won first prize a few times. I know that horseback riding has changed my life for the better!

We are very pleased to have TROT in our local community and encourage you to visit if you are considering therapeutic horseback riding. 

 

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