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this are common occurrences at the 850 nationwide therapeutic riding centers registered with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horseman- ship (PATH) International. Now in its 21st year, Dream Catchers, at the Cori Sikich Therapeu- tic Riding Center, in Toano, Virginia, is one such center celebrating its many success stories. Kendall Lecker, a PATH International-certified advanced instruc- tor, describes the rapid progress of a new 6-year-old student living with autism as illustration. In his first session, he slumped over in the saddle and struggled to hold himself up; by his third session, he was sitting up straight and confidently giving commands to his horse. “Often, our riders start with insuffi- cient core strength and may not be able to hold themselves upright, something the average person takes for granted. But, in a relatively short time, most riders can see dramatic improvements,” says Lecker.


Whoa! to Limitations Z


Therapeutic Horseback Riding Strengthens Kids by Cyndee Woolley


ach “Zachman” Aldridge was born healthy, but at just 10 weeks, he was hospitalized at the hands of his birth father. Suffering from a brain aneurism, partial paraly- sis and multiple broken bones from shaken baby syndrome, Zach’s mother, Rebekah, was told that he might live for a year.


Rebekah’s hope for a miracle was granted as her son’s life extended into weeks, months and years. Yet, at 4, the effects of the injury still prevented Zach from walking or talking like other children.


“While some people are resigned to leave special children like Zach confined to a wheelchair, therapeutic horseback riding gives them more options and improves their quality of life,” advises Kim Minarich, execu-


22 Hudson County NAHudson.com


tive director of Southwest Florida’s nonprofit Naples Equestrian Challenge therapeutic riding program. A medical examination ensures a child is quali- fied for safe participation. During his first lessons, riding instructors had to prop up Zach’s head using “boppy pillows”. However, after just a few months, the Aldridge family saw dramatic improvements as the boy began speaking and telling his horse to “trot on.”


Next, Zach began walking, a surprise to all. His growing strength had worked to overcome the paralysis and the gentle rocking motion of his thera- peutic riding sessions gently pushed his displaced hip back into place, ultimately enabling him to take steps on his own. Zach’s achievements are not unique. Life-changing milestones like


Both Naples Equestrian Challenge and Dream Catchers have achieved premier accreditation by demonstrat- ing the highest levels of training, safety standards and quality controls in the industry developed to protect the riders, staff and volunteers. Feedback from ap- proximately 56,000 participants nation- wide, including nearly 41,000 under the age of 18, show that therapeutic horseback riding helps participants in five key areas:


Normalizes muscle tone. Riding a horse helps children of all abili- ties build core strength and exercise muscles that they may not be able to work from the confines of a wheelchair. Increases flexibility and relax-


ation. The natural rhythm of a horse’s gait provides a relaxing effect on tense muscles and can gently rock joints back into place. It’s a unique therapeu- tic benefit not easily achieved through traditional physical therapy. Improves coordination, balance


and strength. Completing tasks like picking up an object, riding across the arena and placing it in a bucket helps riders develop hand/eye coordination. The movements also help improve bal- ance and strength. Promotes spatial orientation and fine motor skills. Working side-by-side


photo courtesy of Naples Equestrian Challenge


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