Michael Serocki, age 11, on Joey





Questions About Therapeutic Riding Answered
With Judy Freedman of "Reins of Life"

Photos by Curt Wilson

Q: How does therapeutic riding help the riders, and what types of activities do they do aboard the horse?

A: Therapeutic riding helps the riders in many ways. Tossing balls and rings into matching colored buckets, touching ones toes, reaching for the horse's tail and ears, and reaching for the sky all help to improve hand-eye coordination, help stretch various muscles, help the rider to distinguish colors and objects, and make learning fun. These activities help strengthen muscles, build muscle tone, increase circulation, improve balance, increase attention span and improve focus.

Michael Roulhac, age 9, on Ace

One of our instructors, Ann Lewis, is a pre-school teacher, so for her it is natural making up games to play with the children during riding. She will make puzzles according to the child's ability level and have the child pick the pieces one at a time out of a bucket, at different stops along the way. After the last piece is selected, a tray is brought to the side of the horse where the rider will assemble all parts of the puzzle. They love it! Ann also brings small toys to hide around the ring, and a sheet of paper identifying what they are. The rider has to ride to the toy and reach to get it, stretching muscles and using balance and coordination.

Emily Gillen, age 8, on Joey

Encouraging speech with our riders that are autistic or speech delayed is important. We encourage the children to use their words to communicate to the horse, with "walk on", "halt", saying their pony's name, and counting, or singing songs they know from school. The excitement of riding will often trigger vocalization that would not otherwise be heard in their daily routines.

We go on trail rides, which the children and the volunteers enjoy as a diversion from working in the ring. The ability to experience nature from atop the horse's back is a wonderful experience for the children. We pick flowers and identify animals and their sounds along the way, such as sheep, cows, dogs, birds, and other horses.

A few of the riders are able to control the horses on their own with steering, and walking over poles. Focus and control are learned from this.

Q: Do the children get to groom the horses, or give them treats, in addition to riding?

A: The children that are most capable will groom the horses when they first arrive, and help to tack up their horse. Instructors will take time to teach the names of the grooming tools, and tack and how and why they are used. This helps the rider to bond with the animal, as well as learn the additional responsibility involved with horseback riding. One of the benefits is the importance of having to stay focused and directed to the task at hand, remembering where the tack is kept, and then how to put it on.

August Weikel, age 7, on Salty

The children love to feed their horse or pony at the end of their lesson and will bring carrots and apples from home. They like to put them in a bright colored, small plastic bucket with the assistance of a volunteer or instructor to feed their favorite pony or horse. Often the children want to share this experience with their siblings that are along, and get quite excited involving their family members in this joyful bonding experience.

Q: Do you go to horse shows?

A: We have our own horseshow at the conclusion of our season where the children do a walk around the ring in both directions, walk and trot, and a trail class. We had 5 classes with 4 children per class ride, and all received show ribbons and toy horses at the end. The show was judged by Hope Hand, a ROL Board Member and US Team Captain of the Paralympics Equestrian Team.

The children loved the show and were very excited to show off in front of Mom and Dad, siblings, friends, aunts, uncles and grandparents. One mother called me a few days later and said that Kasey (age 9) was so full of herself the entire weekend, and what a wonderful thing that was for Kasey, as she is a child who has low self-esteem. Mom was very moved by this whole experience of her daughter riding, and couldn't stop thanking me. Everyone comes to watch our special children, and we are all so very proud of them. The children are so proud of themselves!

Natural Horse Magazine thanks Judy Freedman for her help in preparing this article.

Judy Freedman and Reins of Life:
Program Operation:
Banbury Cross Farm
Glenmoore, PA

Reins of Life Administrative Office:
1600 Hagysford Road
Tower Oak Hill 9P
Penn Valley, Pennsylvania 19072