Horse therapy helps kids with disabilities

April 17, 2009 11:04:01 AM PDT
Riding a horse would seem almost impossible for a special needs child. But in hippotherapy, a horse becomes a walking physical therapy program. More advanced children learn therapeutic riding and even go on to compete at the Rodeo.When Shelby Day comes to ride at SIRE, everything she does here helps her in the real world.

"Grooming the horse you get lots of motor skill work," said NARHA Instructor of the year Karen Abbott. "Shelby step to the side just a little."

Shelby has developmental delays but her mother says her six years in Sire's therapeutic riding program have helped her catch up. Buckling a saddle is a fine motor skill.

"It's helped with her gross motor skills, her fine motor skills," said Shelby's mother Kari Day. "It's made a tremendous difference in her entire life she loves coming here, she lives to come here."

"It's helped my muscles build up so much," said Shelby.

SIRE's therapeutic equestrian programs are helping 200 riders in three locations.

"For some of our riders in a wheelchair they're always down low when they're on a horse they're above everyone and that seems pretty powerful," said Abbott.

"This is my favorite horse right now, is Tollhouse," said Shelby.

Candace Beneke used to own Tollhouse. She donated him to SIRE, convinced of the importance of this therapy.

"To help them gain more strength, more confidence you can just see it on their faces. That's the best thing," said Beneke.

Shelby is learning to ride like everyone else, with a little help -- like bicycle grips on the end of her reins.

"It helps Shelby keep her hands on the correct place on the rein," said Abbott.

Rubber bands keep her feet in the stirrup, and just riding gives Shelby confidence. Her mother says it also helps her focus.

"She has to know what that horse needs to do and where she's at and where she needs to be," said Shelby's mother Kari. "It's been a blessing. SIRE has been a true blessing for Shelby."

Shelby will be competing along with other three dozen other SIRE riders at the top hands horse show for disabled riders. It's at the Rodeo Friday and Saturday. She'll be riding the obstacle course.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter


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