THERAPEUTIC RIDING IN THE
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
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
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
326 East Sprague Street Winston-Salem, NC 27127.
The barn, or therapy delivery location is 4051 Harper Road, Clemmons, NC
(adjacent to Tanglewood Park).