I worked at a wonderful place called Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp in Oregon as a Therapeutic Riding Instructor. You see, all of the campers, from age 8 to over 70 had a disability ranging from mild physical disabilities to completely debilitating disabilities that did not allow any motor function or communication. Even campers with mild Asperger's and Autism, Palsy, Paralysis and Quad/Paraplegic, and so on.
Every camper got the opportunity to ride, even those who could not verbalize or hold themselves upright. We had the wonderful assistance of an "adaptive saddle"; an Aussie saddle with a metal frame that allowed a cushioned back/head rest to be attached, as well as adjustable arms with handles. Not all campers needed this, and some with paralysis even rode in regular synthetic western saddles. All campers wore a "gate belt"; a belt with handles for assistants to walk alongside and hold onto in case of a fall.
Campers got to go on trail rides (with slopes, logs, gates to open, branches to duck under or go around, and different pathways to choose from), and/or complete an obstacle course including weaving cones, tossing a frisbee into a lasso goal on the ground, poles to walk over, and the like. Campers were encouraged to dress up their horse with a funny hat, a bandana, sunglasses, or other safe costume item, and join in on the fun themselves!
I worked at camp for 8 straight weeks, upwards of 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, and learned more about myself there than I did in 12 years of public school. When I started, I was uncomfortable around people with disabilities, was not sure how to act around people with Autism or Down Syndrome, or how to talk to people who merely were in a wheelchair. When I finished camp, I had made lifelong friendships with some of the campers, did not think twice about conversing with someone with Down Syndrome (as they are normal people too!) and felt confident and comfortable being my goofy self around any and all of the campers.
This was just 8 weeks on a mountain in the middle of Oregon's Mt. Hood National Forest, and because of it, my aspirations have changed forever. I now seek to also become a therapeutic riding instructor on a more permanent basis. Getting involved can be a long road; some advice I suggest is becoming fluent in American Sign Language, learning about special education procedures in public school settings, learning about speech pathology and deaf education, as well as learning about various disabilities like the Autism Spectrum, Down Syndrome, Palsy, and other common disabilities. Learn the common lingo as well! I made the mistake with my bunk mate and fellow riding instructor who was a translater for a school for the deaf if saying "hearing impaired." "Deaf people want to be called deaf; they aren't stupid, they just don't hear," was the response I got.
Also learn some basic procedures for emergencies; seizures, choking, and extreme behavioural outbursts.
It is a long road to become proficient, but with a good backup staff also trained (in specific areas even, which could be helpful and help speed up the process, as well as help riders build one-on-one relationships) it is well worth it.
Maybe you can find a place like MHKC to gain experience?
Good luck and I am glad to see someone else interested in the world of therapeutic riding!
I have said what I have said. I have not said what I have not said.
Last edited by RunSlideStop; 06-13-2012 at 11:35 PM.