Throughout history, humans and horses have had a close relationship; they work together with an ease that is hard to explain unless you’ve experienced the bond with a horse. In today’s society, horses are typically found on ranches or farms, where they are either ridden for work or for pleasure; however, horses also have another very important purpose. For adults and children with disabilities, interaction with horses can be beneficial for therapeutic reasons. Since 1995, Riverwood Therapeutic Riding Center, a facility that is a Premiere Accredited Center through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl), has had a mission to provide quality, professional, equine-assisted activities for both children and adults with disabilities.
Cheyanne Murdock, Development Director at Riverwood Therapeutic Riding Center, said, “Equine-assisted activities help to improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, and motor development, as well as emotional well-being. Our vision is to facilitate healing, acceptance, and growth for those with disabilities through a partnership with equines and the natural world.” With five nationally PATH-certified therapeutic riding instructors, two of whom are Advance-certified and one Equine Specialist in Mental Health and Learning, Riverwood serves individuals within a diverse range of ages and abilities.
“Some disabilities seen in the students at Riverwood include, but are not limited to, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Anxiety, Depression, Learning Disabilities, Speech Disorders, Spina Bifida, Multiple Sclerosis, and many more. Horseback riding provides many physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits. For individuals with limited mobility, riding mimics a walking motion, and stretches muscles that may not or cannot be used otherwise. The farm provides a unique learning experience that is both calming and motivational; it allows learning to take place outside of the classroom. We also host speech therapy classes that are taught in Riverwood’s picnic area, and an American Sign Language class in The Coop, our onsite farm and tack store,” commented Cheyanne. During the school year, all Riverwood students have either physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities; in the summer months, lessons to able-bodied students are available.
Every student at Riverwood has a different way of seeing the world. Their perspective may be partially based on a physical or cognitive disability or an emotional component, which is why being at the farm and working with horses is beneficial.
“Many of our students are unlimited in their talents and our horses provide an accepting and nurturing relationship where true ability is what shines. Horses are sentient beings who need safety, care, and respect in order to thrive. If you love and care for horses, they will accept you one hundred percent. The relationship between student and horse, whether mounted or on the ground, demonstrates to our students how they can build relationships with people in their personal life. Building a relationship with ‘their’ horse offers students a unique perspective of empathy and gives them the confidence to demonstrate these skills in their life away from the farm. Students learn to be very authentic and present when they are working with the horses. The time with horses is a true lesson in non-judgmental acceptance. For the students, physically, riding horses requires balance, neck and torso strength, muscle relaxation, and breath awareness. Strength and coordination are developed. The mental aspect, from spending time unplugged, connecting to an animal and other people, and being present in the moment, is valuable to everyone. Emotionally, horses provide a sage and understanding partner that pays no mind to a person’s disabilities. Students who come to Riverwood enjoy a truly present and emotional partner in their horse. A horse never judges a person for how they look or how their brain works, horses care about what is happening in the moment with their rider,” Cheyanne stated. Beyond the relationships between students and horses, Riverwood helps build strong, authentic friendships between riders, families, volunteers, and students.
In an effort to make the Riverwood experience available to the students they serve, Riverwood is committed to raising funds to cover 70% of the cost of lessons for the students.
“Tuition fees cover about 30% of the cost. We recognize that even the subsidized fee may not be realistic for some families and we do offer scholarships, available on a sliding scale. This month, Riverwood will host The Hoof Beat Fundraiser at the farm on September 28th, 5:30-8:30 pm, with live music from The Martha Bassett Band, a catered dinner by Salem Kitchen, and a silent auction.
For those whose bodies have limitations, horseback riding rhythmically moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to the human walking gait. Riverwood Therapeutic Riding Center helps their students experience a freedom of movement, confidence, and a relationship that is unlike any other.
For more information on Riverwood’s classes, or to purchase tickets for The Hoof Beat Fundraiser, visitwww.riverwoodtrc.org.