Rich Local Options for Equine Assisted Therapy
Horses have a way of helping the voiceless talk and the physically disabled walk. The following inspirational words have been used to describe the therapeutic equine experience – motivation, self-confidence, personal awareness, joy, kinetic learning, relaxation, mobility. This learning environment – called hippotherapy - invigorates the mind and body, catapulting a child (or adult) into a progressive physical state or consciousness. The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International (PATH, Intl), founded in 1969, now offers distance learning, making it possible for smaller, local barns to become accredited and offer this holistic therapy in their communities. Below are some of the premier, accredited centers in the local Connecticut area.
The common thread among these therapeutic riding centers is their focus on the total equine experience from the ground to the saddle. They are not strictly hippotherapy centers. The approach is a holistic one, challenging the student mentally, physically and emotionally by teaching horse care, equine behavior and riding or driving skills.
High Hopes in Old Lyme, started in 1974, is one of the first nationally accredited centers and is one of three centers in the U.S. that offers hands-on PATH, Intl certification courses. Each student has their own program built to suit their specific needs, either mounted or un-mounted. With 12 full-time staff, 20 part-time staff, 3500 hours of donated time and 27 equines, it is a busy place. The students range in age from four to 84. Along with the PATH certification courses, the center offers volunteer orientation programs to educate those who wish to donate their time. They are the only premier accredited center in Connecticut to offer competition, both Paralympics and Special Olympics. HighHopesTR.org
Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Center was founded in 1975 in Darien at the Ox Ridge Hunt Club. It is now situated on its own Brewster, NY, farm and facility. The Hunt Club is now one of three satellite chapters, including Kelsey Farm in Greenwich and Fox Hill Farm in Pleasantville, NY. They offer a similar customized program for their students and are home to a unique at-risk teen and young adult program, Wings, which focuses on emotional disorders. Two miniature horses recently joined the herd of 15 horses. They work alongside the larger equines in the Mini on the Move program in hospitals and assisted living facilities. Pegasus employs 25 full-time staff and donates over 10,000 hours. Volunteer training is also provided for teenagers and adults. PegasusTR.org
Shepard Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center in Bristol was launched in 2004. Along with therapeutic riding, they are developing a veterans program as well. Their director holds the distinction of being one of 12 PATH instructors in the country entrusted with overall equine wellness issues. Cathy Languerand points out, “We do not look for tolerant horses. They will burn out. We look for patience, acceptance and understanding. These horses are truly special creatures, enriching the lives of so many while asking only for good hay, good pasture and a rub on the shoulder.” ShepardMeadowsTR.org
If you are looking for a more local experience, visit PathIntl.org for assistance in searching for a smaller, local farm. Volunteering at the centers or donating are highly encouraged as each of these centers charge students a fraction of their actual costs or provide scholarships. Insurance companies do not necessarily provide assistance. There are many opportunities to give if you happen to overlook the donate button on the website such as, annual galas, ho-downs and the very popular “Adopt a Horse.”
Jennifer McDermott has been around horses since the age of ten. Her exploration of horse energy began while rehabilitating horses in Fairfield County over 12 years ago. In her equine Reiki practice, she approaches equine rehabilitation with nutrition, bodywork and positive reinforcement teaching. She lives in Guilford and devotes herself to the rehabilitation of the Off the Track Thoroughbred.