Thriving through Riding
Therapeutic riding (also known as equine therapy) is a popular activity for people of all ages and levels of ability and disability. Participants learn “from the ground up” how to care for, communicate with, and ride horses in a safe and encouraging environment.
MS Cure Fund recently had the pleasure of visiting Ironstone Farm, a therapeutic riding facility located in Andover Massachusetts, home of “Challenge Unlimited”. Employing horses in a working farm environment, Challenge Unlimited provides beneficial therapy for people with a wide range of physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities. It uses the horse’s unique ability to enhance a person’s movements and touch a person’s heart, inspiring strength, hope and encouragement.
The Ironstone Farm’s professional staff of over 20 licensed instructors and therapists work with 35 program horses and more than 200 volunteers to serve about 450 children and adults each week, year round. Coming from more than 90 cities and towns throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire, participants enjoy the aesthetic beauty of the farm while receiving valuable therapy in collaboration with other service providers to best address their physical and emotional needs. People can sign up for eight- or nine-week riding blocks throughout the year. Recreational riding is available to people of a variety of abilities.
“Horseback riding offers many benefits to people living with physical, as well as cognitive and emotional challenges” said executive director DeeDee O’Brien. Benefits include improved muscle strength, increased range of motion, increased metabolism and improved posture. She added “the motion experienced while riding a horse mimics the sensation of walking, this can help build muscles that may not or cannot be used otherwise and can train a person to regain the ability to walk themselves.” For those with cognitive challenges, riding creates a bond between the rider and the horse in a direct and physical way that facilitates communication that might otherwise not be possible. Further psychological benefits for people living with chronic illness or PTSD can include improved confidence, self-esteem, enhanced social interactions, and improved coping skills.
Being able to participate in activities regardless of one’s physical, cognitive or emotional challenges is core to maintaining a healthy mental state and an understanding of empowerment, not exclusion. Ironstone Farm is one of hundreds of organizations that provide these and countless other opportunities everyday. In January MS Cure Fund hosted their third annual MS Adaptive Ski Day with Maine Sports and Recreation. It is amazing to see the wonder and joy on the faces of our participants as they realize there are new things the CAN do, and are no longer limited by what they cannot do. Both of these organizations are members of Disabled Sports USA (http://www.disabledsportsusa.org). Disabled sports has member organizations in all 50 states and offers programs in over 40 sports.
Whether it is through equine therapy, other adaptive sports or participating as a volunteer or taking new language lessons, participation is the key to expanding opportunities and Thriving Beyond MS©.
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