05-09-2012, 02:16 PM
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That is amazing. I used to volunteer at a therapy barn when I lived in Ohio. There was one rider in particular whose story has always stuck with me.
There was a little girl I think about 6 years old. We'll call her Maria, although for privacy reasons that obviously isn't her real name. She had cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair. She was also extremely shy and really wouldn't talk to anyone.
In this program, for the most debilitated riders, and actually for the majority of them, they did not use saddles. They used a simple surcingle with handles over a square fleece pad so that the riders would get the most benefit out of the warmth and motion of the horse. There were 1-2 sidewalkers who walked alongside the rider and kept them safe as well as encouraged them/helped them with the activities in the session, as well as a leader who led the horse.
Before the riders got on, they were expected to participate in grooming the horse and putting their saddle/surcingle/etc on. This helped to build and establish confidence as well as a relationship with the horse that they were helping to care for.
At first, we had to lift Maria out of her wheelchair and literally pry her legs apart to get her to fit on the little 12hh pony that she was assigned, because she was so used to being confined to the wheelchair her legs were never in a position other than that. We managed though, and she was able to participate. However, her balance was almost non-existent and she had to be supported by one or both of the sidewalkers at all times so she wouldn't fall.
By the end of I think two 6-week sessions, the change was absolutely remarkable. She was not only able to balance and support herself in an upright position on the pony, but she also was becoming quite outgoing and one of the most talkative, friendly riders there :)
It was truly incredible to watch the change in her and the rest of the riders there. Therapy barns (and horses!) will always hold a special place in my heart.