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In the fall 2000 issue of the Review, NCRPS President Butch Kisiah stated that "we need to be out front as a champion of programs and possibilities for all children". I could not agree more. As a recreational therapist (TRS/CTRS), I have grown accustomed to being an advocate for recreation as therapy. And as a therapeutic riding instructor and Director of HorseFeathers Therapeutic Riding, I talk to hundreds of people each year about therapeutic riding in N.C. Therapeutic riding is also known as equine facilitated therapy (EFT), especially when it pertains to non-riding interaction with the horse.

HorseFeathers of NC, Inc. a.k.a. HorseFeathers Therapeutic Riding is a 501(c)-(3) non profit organization created to provide therapy services to residents of central North Carolina. Our mission is to provide a long term program of therapy and experiential education that utilizes our horses and other animals as partners in the therapeutic learning process. We are dedicated to providing these services, as well maintaining a facility where volunteers of all ability ranges can perform that most high honor, the honor of service to the community. Most of the therapeutic riding centers in the piedmont (there are five) are non-profit and rely heavily on volunteers for their workforce. Certainly HorseFeathers Therapeutic Riding could not exist without our volunteers. We have a very diverse volunteer force made up of mental health technicians, bankers, school teachers, amateur and professional equestrians, and members of various health care professions. We also offer volunteer opportunities for direct and indirect client and animal care for teens and adults with disabilities. Our current volunteer staff includes individuals of varying ability levels. All of our volunteers have discovered that the therapeutic value found at HorseFeathers is transferable and radiates out to include every one.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss the value of therapeutic riding on the nationally televised Dr. Laura Show. Because Dr. Laura holds her doctorate in the field of physiology, I had hoped that she would be aware of the physical benefits provided by therapeutic riding. Riding a horse simulates the human gait, and this movement provides physical benefits for individuals with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, partial paralysis, etc. This non-passive exercise allows weight shifts that strengthen trunk and leg muscles in the client. At HorseFeathers the grooming process also provides opportunities for stretching, increasing stamina, improving balance, increasing range of motion, and increased cardio-vascular endurance.

Instead of discussing the physical benefits of therapeutic riding with Dr. Laura however, we discussed social/behavioral and educational benefits. With therapeutic riding, the implications for teaching about appropriate social behavior are infinite. By helping to care for the horses, our clients learn about hygiene, responsibility, accountability, and consequences of actions. Horses provide unconditional love, a quality that is sorely lacking in the lives of an incredible number of children the we serve at HorseFeathers. Whether a child is diagnosed as having ADD/ADHD, detachment disorder, or any other behavioral disability, or if they are just a "normal" child, they can benefit from relating to our volunteers, and the wonderfully giving, kind, fair and loving animals that are our partners.

EFT is truly experiential education. At HorseFeathers we use words and pictures to label almost every item. This method teaches letter and word recognition to children at almost any level of learning. We serve many children without language who rely on the picture symbols to communicate time, patterns, and directions. We also partner with our horses to work on math skills. Recently I was working with a client who has difficulty understanding fractions. While she was grooming her horse I presented this problem: She has finished one side of the horse, and must groom the other side. What part of the whole horse has she groomed? We began by discussing the possible answers (one half, one quarter, etc.). We then divided the horse down the middle with a chalk line. We counted the number of sides, then we drew a fractional number to represent our work. Many children learn best by experiencing the problem at hand. EFT provides numerous opportunities each session for this type of learning.

In his President's Message, Mr. Kisiah said, "We can make a greater positive impact on the physical, social, and behavioral development of young people across North Carolina if we can inform the adults in our communities about the services we provide..."

This idea is what excited me about the opportunity to speak about therapeutic riding/EFT on a nationally televised show. I would be exposing a large audience to this wonderful form of treatment and education that works and is (dare I say it?) FUN!

At HorseFeathers we strive to make a greater impact on all the children that we serve, regardless of ability level. Our goals vary per child, but they would include targets such as: increase in self-awareness, increase in eye contact, decrease in muscle spasticity, increase in muscle tone, decreased self-destructive behavior, increase in range of motion, increase tolerance of tactile stimulation.

Some other benefits of therapeutic riding/EFT are: improved hand-eye coordination, improved problem solving skills, increased vestibular senses, development of pro-social attitudes, expansion of life experiences, increased verbalization, and stimulation of creativity. It seems that we have a shortage of safe, enjoyable learning experiences for our children. Therapeutic riding/EFT can fill some part of that shortage.

This is especially true for children with ADD/ADHD or other behavioral disabilities. Often these children are unable to participate in group sports or other group activities because of lack of social skills (i.e. lack of focus, abbreviated attention span, and reduced patience and tolerance for others), and lack of coordinated motor skills.

Therapeutic riding/EFT gives these children the opportunity to participate in an activity that provides meaningful physical, emotional, social and mental stimulation. There is also the added beneficial option of one on one interaction with the therapist and with the horse. And finally there is the novelty of participating in an activity that has it's own type of prestige and legend. As Will Rogers once said, "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."

Watching children learn, grow and become confidant is an incredible experience, one not to be missed. If you know of a child that could benefit from therapeutic riding/EFT, or if you want to be a part of the team of volunteers that makes this incredible experience possible, call 336.727.1376 or log on to

Susan Crisp, TRS/CTRS is the founder and director of HorseFeathers Therapeutic Riding. HorseFeathers has been providing equine facilitated therapy services to individuals regardless of ability level for three years. HorseFeathers business address is
326 East Sprague Street Winston-Salem, NC 27127.
The barn, or therapy delivery location is 4051 Harper Road, Clemmons, NC (adjacent to Tanglewood Park).

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