Horses help to heal
Therapeutic riding has wide range of benefits
By: By Megan Sarrazin
| Posted: Wednesday, Jun 13, 2012 06:00 am
Connecting physically, emotionally or mentally disadvantaged individuals with gentle, a non-judgmental horse is proving beneficial at a Sturgeon County horse facility.
Sonya Steiner, owner, trainer and riding instructor at Horse Sence Training and Petting Zoo, has been offering therapeutic riding for two years.
“Therapeutic riding is for anyone who’s got disabilities, whether they’re emotional, mental or physical,” she said.
The 10-week program is open to all ages and ability levels and provides a wide range of benefits.
Steiner said the act of being on a horse brings participants improved balance, better co-ordination, stronger muscles and will connect them to other individuals with many of the same challenges.
Horse Sence volunteer Christel Chattargoon agreed, adding the program has profound effects on younger individuals.
“What riding therapy does is it makes use of functional skill to assist the rider to achieve specific goals for sitting, balance, self-confidence or social skills,” she said.
For some youngsters, she said it is initially a struggle for them to sit properly in a saddle, but as time goes on, they gain control of their bodies to sit on their own, which ultimately improves self-confidence.
“Riding a horse is beneficial to a rider physically,” she said. “As a rider, your muscles are contracting and relaxing to balance and this reaches deep muscles that aren’t accessible in conventional physical therapy.”
Steiner said the program attracts several individuals with autism, who are able to find various stimuli in their surroundings at the facility.
“They’re able to connect with an animal that don’t communicate the way humans do so you have a lot of autistic kids who get a chance to be with horses,” she said.
Benefits aren’t limited to participants, Steiner said, adding the volunteers benefit immensely from the programs as well.
“The volunteers feel like they’re giving back to the community. They’re also making, basically, that child’s or that adult’s week, because that’s the highlight of their week,” she said.
Chattargoon has been volunteering with Horse Sence for more than a year and said the process is inspiring.
“You watch a kid in a wheelchair who’s given the freedom of legs or an autistic kid – with autism, they’re unable to focus a lot of the time – being able to enjoy what they’re doing and be able to focus, or kids who suffer from chronic pain get more bright and happy,” she said.
Chattargoon said she has always wanted to ride horses, but got her first chance at the beginning of her high school career.
The now Grade 11 Paul Kane High School student enrolled in the five-credit equine studies class at the beginning of Grade 10 under the direction of Steiner.
“I’ve learned so much,” she said. “Although we don’t get paid, we do learn a lot of qualities that you wouldn’t learn in a normal job.”
Therapeutic riding sessions are held in fall and spring, with various camps held throughout the summer. For more information on Horse Sence, visit www.horsesensezoo.com.