A Muskegon-area organization has recently purchased land and stables to support increasing demand for its services. Heal with a Horse offers an opportunity for special needs children in the Muskegon area to experience the many benefits of horseback riding.
Founded in 2010 by Kimberly Patton, the organization has served hundreds of West Michigan children through its therapeutic riding programs, school partnerships, and other services. They had developed a substantial waiting list due to limitations at rented facilities. In 2015, the group was able to acquire 13 acres at 700 N. Hilton Park Road in Muskegon with a barn, stables, and an indoor riding area that will allow them to operate year round. Boarding services will be offered to offset the operating costs.
The organization’s mission is to “enhance the quality of life of chronically ill and special needs children through equine assisted therapy.” Specifically, Heal with a Horse offers Adaptive Riding lessons that teach individuals with special needs how to ride a horse. Instructors are trained to safely assist students with mounting and dismounting, using a ramp or an adapted method for getting on a horse. Trained volunteers serve as horse leaders and side-walkers to help keep the students safe.
Horseback riding helps to improve mobility, strength, coordination, balance, postural control, communication, gross and fine motor skills, and even social skills. For children with sensory challenges, horseback riding can provide nearly every type of sensory input all at once. When a horse walks or trots the rider has a feeling of motion; riders receive tactile input when they pet or groom the horse; the rhythmical clip-clop of hooves and the horse’s whinny provides auditory input. And the horses have a unique ability to bond with and respond to their young riders.
All of this is critical to students like Peter, a 2 ½ year old boy who uses a wheelchair. During his ride on therapy horse Rosie, he proudly practiced ‘airplane arms’ an exercise that helps to improve his balance and core strength.
Program Manager Erika Dertian says there is great satisfaction in seeing how proud students and parents are about their progress. For some children, raising their hands above their head or giving a command to a horse is a remarkable hurdle. Helping them reach their goals is at the heart of this work.
“The children get a break from their own battle and realize they are not alone,” says Patton. “For sick children, having a powerful new friend might be all the encouragement they need.”
During 2015, the Osteopathic Foundation of West Michigan is pleased to have supported Heal with a Horse with more than $21,000 in grants via the Mark and Christine Fazakerley donor-advised funds. Additional funding is needed to complete the capital campaign and new volunteers are always welcome. More information is available at www.healwithahorse.org.