What to look for in a Theraputic Program
I'll be looking into therapeutic riding for my little one come summer time. What should I be looking for in a program, and what would be red flags for you about a program that might not be up to snuff.
Therapeutic riding can do wonders for children, teenagers, adults, seniors - everybody!
First off, I would inquire as to whether the facility is equipped to accommodate your child - if there are any special requirements. Request a information packet or website information (if applicable, however most reputable facilities have these) from the facility outlining their philosophy, approach, and credentials.
Secondly, tour the facility and bring your child. Meet as many people involved as you can. Get a feel for the instructors, students, and horses. Make a list of questions and concerns and address them with the facility operator and instructors. Try to make an effort to talk to another parent and get their opinion and a feel for how their experience has been at that facility. How did your child react to being around horses? Do you feel that your child's safety is their number one priority?
Things to look for (red flags)
1) Were any of the special needs children left unattended with the horse?
2) How well were the horses behaved?
3) Lack of help around the stable. There should be an adequate amount of people on deck to assist the instructor with the student(s).
4) Safety. Are unsafe area's blocked off (muck pit, tool room, feed/medication room, etc).
5) Is the area clean and tidy and free of potential tripping hazards?
6) Lack of safe accommodations for mounting and dismounting the horses
7) Lack of safe, fenced in riding area.
Anyone else have any tips?
I haven't had to look for a center for this reason, nor do I have much experience with centers other than my own, so if I were you, I'd take what I say with a grain of salt :-)
One major thing I would look for is the condition of the horses. I wouldn't like to have any sort of involvement with a center that has unhealthy looking horses- too thin, working while they're covered in mud, terrible hooves, etc. Another thing that would send up major red flags would be if the property was very run down and decrepit. The property has to be safe.
You would also want to figure out whether you would need hippotherapy, therapeutic riding or something else/in between. That can weed out a lot of centers that may not offer what you need. Of course, the experience of the instructors/therapists is also important.
PATH, Intl. lists accredited centers and instructors. I would definitely start there- centers that are accredited have a lot of standards that they have to live up to, so it makes it more likely to get a great program (in my opinion).
Here's PATH's site and good luck!
I have only looked at them to free lease my older horse. But-both places he has been are accredited with Path, and I have to say that I was impressed with both (obviously, since I would not let the use my horse otherwise). That site is really helpful tho, since it allows you to search my your childs' needs. They are amazing places. I have never left there anything less than impressed. The kids really love those horses, and the horses that I have seen at both facilities were incredible. Good luck!
I agree with those who steered you to PATH- as a certified instructor through them, you know that when you're at a PATH Premier Accredited center that the highest industry standards are being upheld. That being said, it can be hard for some centers to keep up with their requirements financially- so just because they aren't "PATH, it does not mean it isn't a quality center. Do your homework, as questions, interview and tour the center, talk to locals, use some common sense, and I'm sure you'll do just fine :) PATH does lay out the guidelines quite clearly on what these centers need, so if you familiarize yourself with what is required you can use that to get a good idea if a non-PATH center is on the right track :) One big thing for me is HELMETS in this line of work- that's a deal breaker for me if I see a center where they are not required!
The biggest things I would look for are healthy, well-behaved horses (can't see their ribs, no discharge coming from nose or eyes, no overgrown hooves) and friendly and qualified instructors/volunteers you can trust.
I would suggest you pop in to any therapeutic barn you are looking into and watch a lesson. Go with your gut - if you don't feel right about the barn, then it's probably not right for you. Good luck!
The center I work for is not PATH accredited, nor am I. To me that certificate says "I can remember to close a gate and I can ride w/t/c without difficultly". I'm not a huge fan PATH... some of their rules don't rub me the right way. The biggest one is that lessons are taught in groups. If I were a parent I wouldn't want some 16 year old teaching my child while an instructor barks in the middle of the ring.
If I were you I would look at:
1) The instructors history and their history of persons with disabilities. How long have they been working? Any accomplishments?
2) Ask for a tour. Look at the facility. Is it accessible and safe for your child? Are there any future plans to make it accessible?
3) Ask about volunteering. What are the requirements? We only accept 16 and up. Obviously if they have no experience they certainly aren't leading a horse around. Nor would I want a 13 year old leading my child on a horse.
4) check out the horses. Do they go through special training? What's the requirements for the to be used in the program? Age? Past jobs? Are they in good condition?
If you REALLY want to infiltrate the place I would ask to volunteer, even just once a week. People talk. You might never know if they are tranquilizing the horse or if the person leading the horse is only 13. Or that Mary the instructor's kids never progress further then steering left and right and her lessons are repetitive.
If you have any other questions feel free to ask! I teach therapeutic riding and manage the barn. I've been around the block, so to speak. Lol
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I am not wanting to turn this into a non-PATH vs. PATH debate, it accomplishes nothing :) I don't think anyone will argue though that to work with children and adults with physical, emotional, and cognitive disabilities, special training is required. Whether that is regulated or not, it is necessary. If you have the means to learn it on your own and collaborate with other people and can successfully keep volunteers, horses, and participants safe while creating a successful lesson- great! I am not trying to take away from that, and it sounds like you have excellent experience and know what you're doing :) In my eyes, this constitutes a good center. For people that are new to therapeutic riding, and don't have a safe established center to work with, I think PATH provides a good outline as to how to conduct a safe, fun lesson. That being said, for a person to be able to teach riding, they should have some basic riding skills- do they need to be able to do a high level dressage test to be able to teach therapeutic riding? I don't think so! But, they should have some understanding of how to ride if they are going to be able to teach- so the riding test does make sense to me. It shouldn't be the end all be all of becoming an instructor, but I do think it is important.
One more thing regarding PATH, that I do appreciate, the standards. Though long, somewhat tedious, and sometimes frustrating, it is important to remember why they are there- to protect volunteers, participants, and horses. No matter our affiliation, none of us ever wants harm those we work with. One such standard that is very important, regarding atlanto-axial instability in riders with Down's syndrome. If a rider has a positive x-ray for this, horseback riding can actually do them harm. If a bad jolt were to happen, they can actually sever their spinal cord pretty easily because they lack head control :/ The riders that have a negative xray are cleared to ride with us. I believe that for this type of work, there should be an organization that works to try and find best practices, if just to try and prevent accidents. Do accidents happen at all centers, regardless of PATH or non PATH status? YES! They are horses, stuff happens. Are you going to prevent all accidents by using a PATH center? No way!! That would be completely ignorant and stupid to say that they are the end all be all of therapeutic riding. However, if you aren't near a good center like SlideStop is at, or are having trouble evaluating a program and had no advice from anyone, I would be more likely to go with a center that follows some regulations than one that follows none. AGAIN, the program as a whole is more important that the affiliation on the front door of the place, but in the end not all centers are created equal. Look at the whole program, also ask if they have Physical Therapists available to assess riders (having people that know how the human body works is HUGE- with some disabilities certain horses/techniques/manipulating can do HARM; our PT is a valuable member of our team and gives great insight) For a long time I've thought that there should be another governing body in the therapeutic riding world, what do you think SlideStop?
Excellent post, tbcrazy! My center is premier accredited and I ran the reaccreditation process the last time we were due. While I appreciate some of the rules PATH has in place, I don't agree with everything. I agree that there should be another "governing body" in this world. Sometimes, I think PATH is a racket. For example, I've been volunteering and interning at this center for nearly 8 years. Many of the instructors and therapists have taken me under their wings and taught me all that they know. I'm an instructor now and I feel as if I know what I'm doing and my riders are progressing. I'm not PATH certified- I can't afford to be. The cheapest certification program around here is upwards of $600 and I just can't do that. I don't think that makes me any less of an instructor.
So, I agree with both slidestop and tbcrazy. PATH is not necessary, but I think for someone not familiar with different programs, it can be a really useful place to start. And I definitely agree with tbcrazy about a PT to do the initial evaluation :-)
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