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Archive for the ‘Therapeutic Riding’ Category

As I am driving to Freedom Ride to teach for the day my mind begins to race. “I hope I have enough volunteers for all my lessons today:”, with that first thought the flood gates of my mind open and I begin thinking….

I hope Zeus is feeling better because I really need him for John’s lesson.  John has made such great progress and I don’t  want to cancel his lesson.  Last week was a great accomplishment for John, I still can not believe I cried when I saw him walk around the arena with no side walkers, sitting up straight, completely independent.

Last week was the first time he has been able to have the taste of freedom and ride independently. John, has been in a wheel chair and depended on his caretakers since his accident seven years ago. I begin to smile as I drive and realize how far John has comes over the past two years at Freedom Ride.

My thoughts switch to Ashley,  I really hope she overcomes her fear of cantering off the lounge line, today. I’m a little confused as to where her fear is coming from, she was cantering by herself beautifully just a couple of weeks ago. I need to talk to her mom about it, maybe, there is something that happened outside of her riding lesson that I am not aware of. She was making so much progress and I really want her to show in the walk, trot, canter class at Special Olympics this year.

Then I remember,  I need to complete all the paperwork for Special Olympics and I have to get all my progress notes to the program director from the previous session.  This is the moment, when I start to feel overwhelmed about my day and I haven’t even started teaching.

Ethan pops into my mind, and I can’t wait to see that big smile again when he starts trotting. That is one of those moments when I realize why I love teach therapeutic riding. What an incredible feeling to see, this little y year old, laughing and smiling when just three weeks ago he was afraid to even get on Pete the pony.

I have to give Titan a strong leader in today’s lessons. He was nipping yesterday when we went into the trot. I have to find time today and work with him. He is getting bored with the lessons and I need take him out on a trial ride to break up his day and get him out of the arena, at that moment I begin to be consumed with thoughts about all the horses and their needs.

I start to realize that my day is becoming a lot longer than I first anticipated.  I also have to get on Argus and ride him at some point.  He was not exercised that much in the past week and I need to work with him if I want him to stay in our program. I see so much potential in him and think he would be a great addition. We only have six more weeks until the trial period is over and we need to make our decision whether not keep him for the program. He is so willing and level-headed, he just needs a little work since he is an 8-year-old warm blood and has not been worked in over a year.

 

I pull into the parking lot, and remember that Lou, my led volunteer is on vacation. I depend on him to keep things running while I am teaching and I can not do my job effectively without him. He keeps the barn going and the lessons on schedule. I really count on him to help with tacking up, bringing horses in from the pasture, feeding and managing the other volunteers. “What am I going to do without him, today?”

My day begins and as I am walking to the stable I see that Joan is there. I take a deep breath of relief.  Joan, our other lead volunteer, must have heard me say that Lou was going to be out today and decided to show up and help. Freedom Ride would not exist without the support and dedication of the wonderful volunteers and I am thankful for them everyday.

This is just a glimpse into my life as a therapeutic riding instructor.It has been the most challenging and rewards position I have ever held. I had the pleasure of being part of an amazing team of loyal horses, staff and volunteers at Freedom Ride Therapeutic Riding Center in downtown Orlando FL.  Freedom Ride is dedicated to enriching the lives and experiences of children and adults with mental and physical disabilities by engaging them in various equestrian activities designed to promote and improve physical, mental and social well-being. Freedom Ride is built on the conviction that we are not defined by our limitations. I am honored to have been part of the Freedom Ride team and working with amazing staff, students and horses. Freedom Ride truly exemplifies the meaning of Horsepower for the Spirit.

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For those who are recovering from injury or who live with mental or physical disability, the human-horse relationship can open the door to an entirely new realm of possibilities. Horse and human become partners in a therapeutic relationship which offers a multitude of opportunities to focus on and explore abilities rather than disabilities.  Students learn to be at ease, rather than dis-eased.

Physical aging, another component is known to be the cumulative effects of lifestyle choices, and unfortunately, many people with injury/disability necessarily lead sedentary lives.  Furthermore, the ability to live independently depends largely on a person’s degree of mobility, and sedentary lifestyle contributes to mobility issues.  Therapeutic horseback riding improves the strength, tone, flexibility, and reflexes of postural muscles and leg muscles, thereby increasing stability of gait and balance in people with mild to moderate mobility disabilities.  Those with more severe disabilities benefit from improved balance, coordination, and postural control essential to healthy respiratory and digestive function.

Carriage driving also addresses postural control, use of diaphragmatic and core muscle groups, eye and hand coordination and socialization and communication skills. Although clients aren’t mounted, participation in this program increases physical activity levels even for clients in wheelchairs. These physical benefits contribute to the maintenance of independent lifestyles in individuals recovering from injury or living with disability.

Physical Benefits of Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Therapeutic horseback riding improves the strength, tone, flexibility, and reflexes of postural muscles and leg muscles, thereby increasing stability of gait and balance in people with mild to moderate mobility disabilities. Those with more severe disabilities benefit from improved balance, coordination, and postural control essential to healthy respiratory and digestive function. Carriage driving also addresses postural control, use of diaphragmatic and core muscle groups, eye and hand coordination and socialization and communication skills. Although students aren’t mounted, participation in this program increases physical activity levels even for clients in wheelchairs. These physical benefits contribute to the maintenance of independent lifestyles in individuals recovering from injury or living with disability.

Psychological Benefits of Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Individuals recovering from injury or living with disability need to be engaged in healthy, supportive relationships to help enhance their sense of self-confidence and autonomy, and to cope effectively with the challenges of their circumstances. Equestrian pursuits, by their very nature are an exercise in cooperation, connection and relationship building. They require the cultivation of mutual trust and respect, patience and compassion, assertiveness and sensitivity, focus and perseverance. Horses, like people, respond positively in relationships characterized by these elements. As students practice the use of these skills and qualities in the saddle and on the ground, horses respond in kind rewarding and reinforcing clients’ development of healthy behaviors and coping mechanisms. These skills and qualities contribute to clients’ ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships with family members and friends and helps develop an overall sense of self-confidence and autonomy; all of which enhance the individual’s ability to cope with practically any challenge life offers.

Educational Benefits of Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Therapeutic horseback riding assists in building a good base for education by aiding in the students ability to learn. Therapeutic riding can help in the basic skill of remedial reading, by assisting students with the foundation of reading, recognizing the different shapes, sizes and colors. These educational lessons can be taught much more easily on horseback, as part of a games and activities. Remedial math is also learned by counting the horses steps, objects around the arena, or even the horses legs.  Activities that involve addition and subtraction can be taught throughout a therapeutic riding session with the use of the horse, volunteers, and other students. With these concepts being taught through games willingness to learn and participate in increased.

Social Benefits of Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Many adults recovering from injury or living with disability, particularly older adults, have limited opportunity for social interaction due to multiple factors including transportation, financial restrictions, and health issues. Decreased levels of social interaction and engagement have been shown to contribute to depression, self-neglect, a sense of loneliness and low self-esteem. Students  are stimulated and find themselves interacting and engaging with volunteers, instructors, horse-handlers, therapists, other students, and the horses themselves. Moreover, volunteers and students vary in ages, from teens to senior citizens, providing enjoyable intergenerational interaction and the opportunity for students to make new friends and expand their social network.

Like recreational riding, therapeutic riding is an excellent form of exercise therapy that is fun, safe, challenging and socially rewarding. The goals of therapeutic and recreational riding revolve around learning horsemanship, improving basic riding skills and many times learning a specific riding discipline such as dressage or western pleasure. In therapeutic riding, special attention is paid to facilitating improvements in musical strength, coordination, balance, stamina, self confidence and social interaction. Lesson plans may be tailored individually to address clients’ special needs. The therapeutic riding instructors are specially trained and certified to instruct students with a wide variety of physical and mental disabilities, as well as students who are not disabled.  Therapeutic and recreational sessions are conducted according to each rider’s interests, needs, abilities and rate of progress.

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Quantum Leap FarmLocated in Odessa, Florida, Quantum Leap Farm’s Horse and Healing program exists to enrich and enhance the lives of active and injured service members and their families, and civilian adults with mental and physical disabilities by engaging them in various equestrian activities designed to promote and improve physical, mental and social well-being. Quantum Leap Farm provides therapeutic and recreational horseback riding, hippotherapy, carriage driving, equine assisted mental and behavioral health services, and a variety of equine experiential learning programs and workshops.

I had the pleasure of working with the staff, students and volunteers at Quantum Leap Farm as a riding instructor. Seeing first hand the healing power of the horse and the benefits that therapeutic riding offers to persons with disabilities is always a life changing event.

Each equestrian activity offers a wide variety of therapeutic benefits to participants recovering from injury or living with mental or physical disability. These benefits may be categorized as physical, psychological, educational and social in nature.

Therapeutic horseback riding improves the strength, tone, flexibility, and reflexes of postural muscles and leg muscles, thereby increasing stability of gait and balance in people with mild to moderate mobility disabilities.  Those with more severe disabilities benefit from improved balance, coordination, and postural control essential to healthy respiratory and digestive function. The aim of any program is to improve self-confidence and mental relaxation, along with the physical benefits.  In addition, one would hope for significant carry- over of improvements from the therapy sessions to activities of daily living.

For those who are recovering from injury or who live with mental or physical disability, the human-horse relationship can open the door to an entirely new realm of possibilities. Horse and human become partners in a therapeutic relationship which offers a multitude of opportunities to focus on and explore abilities rather than disabilities.  Students learn to be at ease, rather than dis-eased. I am honored to have been part of the Quantum Leap-Horses and Healing team and working with amazing staff, students and horses.

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