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| sports Traditionally, riding has been regarded as an elitist pursuit


guarded by the rich – not the case with CanTRA and NARHA. “Once we move beyond the stigma of ‘elitism’ that equestrian sport seems to generate,” explains Ann Caine of Sunrise Equestrian Centre in Guelph, Ont.,“we discover the unbelievable freedom this recreational and sports activity offers riders with a disability, using very ordinary, inexpensive but well-trained horses. The opportuni- ty to ride is a great motivator but the involvement in the grooming, tacking and preparation of the horse plays a major role in the ther- apeutic benefits offered by this activity.” Each local center offers programming with its own unique focus.


While one may offer physical therapy with the therapist using the horse’s movement to influence the body of the rider (hippothera- py), another may focus more on recreation or competitive sport. Regardless of its approach, each riding center offers its participants with disabilities a sense of freedom and achievement while enjoy- ing the outdoors. For many of these students, irrespective of age, riding may be their only exposure to such freedom of movement. After falling from her horse at a show, Eileen Flickinger, of


Hamburg, Pennsylvania, suffered an injury to her brain stem and spent three months in a coma. She had been a rider since the age of five, so it was not a surprise when she insisted that riding would continue to be a part of her life during, and after, her recovery. On the joys of learning to ride again, Eileen remarks, “When I


throw down that cane, get out of the wheelchair, climb on the back of my steady stead, I am independent and I love it. Slowly my bal- ance improves. I’ve started cantering and although I will never soar over fences again,my confidence in myself soars, for I have become a ‘master’ of at least one other being. Self-esteem and confidence in myself and what I can and might do has returned.” She adds, “Only a person with a disability can feel the exhilaration of moving as fast as a non-disabled person can move on the ground.” Therapeutic riding is a unique form of therapy because it


espouses a holistic approach to rehabilitation. Lessons are tailored to the rider’s need for specific therapy whether it is physical, behav- ioral, speech, occupational or even infant stimulation therapy. The passive form of riding therapy is called hippotherapy,where


the horse becomes a therapeutic apparatus. Instead of actively learning to ride, the individual sits passively on the horse and auto- matically reacts to the three-dimensional swinging motions of the horse’s back. The movements of a walking horse facilitate almost identical patterns of movement in the rider’s pelvis and trunk. In other words, when we walk our pelvis moves in the same way as a rider’s pelvis is moved by a walking horse. And interestingly, a walking horse’s length of stride is nearly identical to that of an adult. It is the horse’s rhythmic swinging movement that serves to strengthen muscles, improve balance, co-ordination and circula- tion in the rider. But because hippotherapy requires a professional therapist on hand, not all riding centers offer this form of therapy. “A horse’s walking action mimics your body action”, explains Dr.


Louis Wagner, retired chest and vascular surgeon from Franklin, Pennsylvania. “Exercise machines work only one group of muscles


at a time. A horse makes your whole body respond in a smoothly rhythmic, natural way.” Other aspects of therapeutic riding involves socialization, recre-


ation, outdoor activity, interaction of people and animals, the chal- lenge of an exciting sport, and the learning of useful skills which include care and responsibility for an animal. It is not a scientific approach, but it is impossible to separate the physical and emotion- al benefits of therapeutic riding. Bonding with the horse is an important part of the success of these programs. Therapeutic riding brings a new dimension to the lives of riders.


This form of recreation simultaneously improves balance, coordi- nation, strength and motor planning skills without the stigma attached to most “therapy” programs. Therapy, in the traditional sense, for anyone with a long-term disability can be dead boring, whereas participation in an approved therapeutic riding program with qualified instructors is fun, beneficial and life enhancing. Our friend the horse serves us well as a therapeutic tool enabling


its human masters to maximize their abilities. Fly me on a pleasure course, for I can mount and ride a horse.


For a therapeutic riding program in your area, see a contact CanTRA at (519) 767-0700 or www.cantra.ca; or NARHA at (800) 369-7433 or www.narha.org.


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