Fun through equine therapy
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE ” Chrysanthemum, a gentle white horse, stands poised as 14-year-old Terra Dickerson is pushed up a wooden ramp, helmet in place, for a ride in the corral.
Cerebral palsy makes mounting the horse difficult, so a therapist and volunteers give Terra support to get sufficiently positioned, with her hands on the vaulting surcingle.
Chrysanthemum certainly will not be vaulting, but the style of strap allows a direct connection for Dickerson to feel the movement “straight from the horse’s back into the spine,” said Jill Strandquist, a certified horse therapist and pediatric occupational therapist.
One of four therapists at the stables off Highway 9 between Breckenridge and Farmer’s Korner, Strandquist works with several volunteers at the Therapy Animals Means Equality Foundation site run by Pam and Mike Krugman.
Once Terra has been secured, she’s escorted through a gate into a corral lined with shredded tires to indulge in a weekly therapy that elicits smiles.
“She loves it,” says Terra’s mother, Mary. “When can therapy be fun? Therapy’s not usually fun. Nothing against the therapists, but this is really fun for the kids. They’re outside, the horses …”
As Chrysanthemum calmly begins to circle the arena, Terra’s hands hold tightly to the strap.
“She doesn’t just sit there like us,” Mary said. “It’s a little bit of a job for her to kind of sit up straight there.”
She said that Terra, who left her wheelchair outside the corral, benefits from the horse’s gait, as it simulates walking through her hips. The motion stretches her leg and hip muscles, Mary said.
With a leader in front and people walking along on either side to ensure Terra’s safety, her arms raise.
“And now she’s working on balance,” Mary said. “That’s pretty tough for her to do ” stick her arms up in the air.”
Terra has participated in equine therapy since she was 3 years old. Now she’s a freshman at Summit High School.
Mary said that as she progresses through the six-week session, Terra becomes more flexible, and it’s easier for her to move.
The therapy is only for those with a prescription from a doctor, and it supports traditional therapy.
“It’s radically different from taking a disabled child for a pony ride,” she said.
The rides have specific intended effects, such as improving the participant’s balance, posture and symmetry.
The horses bring calmness to children with autism, and they even help kids with speech impediments, Strandquist said.
There are about 16 children in the TAME equine program, which has been available locally since about 1994.
The horses have to pass through rigorous training before they’re qualified. They must be able to take slaps, tantrums and pinching from the riders without flinching.
And with such discipline, it’s easy for them to be over-worked.
“More than two half-days per week per horse isn’t recommended,” Strandquist said.
But they don’t spend the rest of their time locked up. The horses will take on local trails or even do vaulting exercises when they’re off TAME duty.
There are two horses involved in the therapy. A third, donated by TAME volunteer Deb Neyland of Breckenridge, is going through training.
“It’s amazing how animals can feel and sense a need and desire to be so gentle,” she said.
The TAME program receives funding through participants, local government and donations. Strandquist said it is not supported by most health-insurance programs, so it can be difficult for families to afford.
“We’ve never refused riding to a child unable to pay,” she said.
Mike Krugman said TAME and Dr. Carol Sloan-Burton intend to begin a pilot equine program for adolescents with eating disorders within the next year.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or email@example.com.
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