RENO — As Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
Horse riding and horse care has always been a much-loved Nevada activity, but now is proving to be a viable way to relax and empower people. Experts say students benefit greatly from time spent working with horses as part of structured equine-assisted learning programs.
“It’s been clinically proven that just being in the presence of horses changes our brainwave patterns,” said Robbie Maus, founder of Horses for the Spirit. “Horses definitely have a comforting effect that helps stop people becoming fixated on past or negative events — giving them a really positive experience.”
And, as Alexis Hill, executive director of Kids & Horses, says, “Horse therapies are so natural to our area because we are the Wild West. Kids & Horses really doesn’t have any issues finding volunteers with horse experience or horses for our program because Nevada is still quite a ranch and horse area.”
Community programs that involve horses feature a variety of approaches and serve a plethora of needs. Barbara Chastain, founder, director and instructor at the Center for Adaptive Riding, says, “The field of equine-assisted activities is growing, and northern Nevada is no different than other places internationally. Whether riding for people with physical or cognitive disabilities, learning opportunities for troubled teens, or corporate-coaching, there seems to be something for people with a variety of interests.”
Chastain elaborated by saying there are many benefits that volunteers also experience in these programs.
“Many volunteers report a feeling of satisfaction as they watch a rider accomplish a skill that has been worked on for quite a while,” Chastain said.
The results are startling. Equine-assisted therapeutic riding has proven healing benefits.
These include increased strength and flexibility, improved motor skills, speech promotion, memory and cognitive reasoning, relationship building and social skills. Even youth showing severe anti-social and aggressive behavior become calmer and more communicative.
“When riding a horse, the human body moves as if walking, providing a unique, natural vehicle for physical therapy: core strength as well as balance, posture, coordination, reflexes, motor skills and hand-eye coordination improve,” Hill said.
According to Laurie Roberts, co-founder of Nevada Equine Assisted Therapy (NEAT), “The greatest need right now is just getting the word out to the public of all the ways that our work can help such a wide range of people.” She added, however, “That and maybe more hours in the day to help others!”
programs in our area
NEAT is a new and innovative program offering social, emotional and behavioral interventions through work with horses. They promote change and learning in people dealing with social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Website: Nevada EquineAssistedTherapy.com.
HealTherapy of Nevada has been approved by the state to provide “full scope” outpatient mental health services. HealTherapy’s staff includes a psychiatrist, licensed clinicians, family resource specialists and therapeutic equestrian instructors. Website: HealTherapyInc.com.
The Center for Adaptive Riding is working be a leading horsemanship organization for people of all abilities, providing therapeutic and recreational programs that enrich the lives of our riders, their families and the community. In our culture it is sometimes said that people diagnosed with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, traumatic brain injury, learning disabilities or Multiple Sclerosis have “special needs.” The Center for Adaptive Riding acknowledges that each individual is unique, and specializes in lesson planning for students with and without physical and cognitive challenges while enjoying the attributes they share with us all. Whether a student is brushing, riding or leading a horse, balance, body awareness and brain neuro-pathways are activated. Enjoying the outdoors while building relationships with the horses, volunteers and other riders are just a few of the additional benefits of the programs of the Center for Adaptive Riding. Website: AdaptiveRiding.org.
Kids & Horses is certified as the only Premier Accredited Center by PATH in northern Nevada. PATH is a worldwide organization that supports more than 42,000 individuals with special needs each year through equine-assisted activity and therapy programs.
Kids & Horses offers a safe and secure environment. The special connection that their students have with the horses give them confidence to communicate and even help them build relationships outside of the barn.
Kids & Horses serves individuals facing a broad range of challenges including paralysis, multiple sclerosis, autism, muscular dystrophy, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, learning disabilities and stroke. Anyone who can benefit is eligible to be assisted. Despite the organization’s name, special needs individuals of all ages are eligible for assistance. Lessons are individually designed to achieve predetermined therapeutic goals, and are tailored for each rider’s specific needs, ability and stamina. The horses in the Kids & Horses program are short, well-trained, love children and are calm. All of the horses go through training. Many of the horses have special needs and health issues because they are donated to the program but they all know they are lucky to have this second career and love what they do. Website: KidsAndHorses.org.
Horses for the Spirit is dedicated to helping Washoe County youth, particularly those at risk of failing in traditional settings, learn positive life and social skills by offering programs that combine equine-assisted learning and natural horsemanship ground skills. Founded in 2005, Horses for the Spirit is building a base of clients that include the No Child Left Behind Behavioral Health Services, Kids Kottage, McGee Center, Social Services, Children’s Cabinet and many more. Website: HorsesForThe Spirit.org.
EQuus Insight offers workshops and classes for improving emotional intelligence and social skills for “at-risk” youth. Although the focus was originally Equine Assisted/Facilitated Learning, as the EQuus Insight herd expanded, so did their focus. Their lead teachers are their horses, but they’re assisted by a mini donkey, two llamas, one alpaca, two big dogs, chickens, one duck, cats and critters visiting from the surrounding environment. Inspired by Richard Louve’s work and his book, “Last Child in the Woods - Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder,” EQuus Insight has clients who garden, recycle, learn about sustainability, hike, work with the fiber off the alpaca and llama, plant trees and all in all learn in a Holistic/Gestalt/Somatic way from the environment. EQuus Insight is working with groups from residential treatment centers, charter schools and the juvenile justice system, and also offering workshops for corporate teambuilding, personal growth sessions for individuals and groups, and staff development for public, charter and private schools. Website: Equus Insight.com.
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