When it came to finding a new type of physical therapy for her young twins to try, Shauna Occhipinti looked to the outdoors.
Through her mother, Occhipinti learned about a farm near Grovetown that provides therapeutic horse riding lessons for people with special needs.
Sons Ethan and Connor, now 7, were born premature at 27 weeks and face motor and sensory issues.
“It looked like it would be a fun way to have some of their therapy done without them even really realizing it was therapy,” she said.
Three years after signing up for Blue Ribbon Riders, which uses hippotherapy to help patients with a ranging degree of movement dysfunction, Ethan and Connor are hooked, Occhipinti said.
The classes, she said, have helped both boys with their balance, focus and confidence.
“We gave it a try, and it’s worked out very well,” she said.
Claudia Morin operates Blue Ribbon Riders on her 19-acre property, called Maple Knoll Farm.
Hippotherapy uses a horse’s motion to aid with impairments, limitations and disabilities in patients with disorders such as Down syndrome, autism, Asperger’s syndrome and cerebral palsy.
“The movement of the horse gives them the sense of walking while they are sitting,” said Morin, an occupational therapist and hippotheraphy clinical specialist. “We challenge them with different movements and positions on the back of the horse.
“Movements we can do challenge balance, thinking, confidence.”
On Saturday, her students will showcase what they’ve learned at the Grovetown farm at 987 Reynolds Farm Road.
Demonstration day will be held from noon until 4 p.m. and will include arts and crafts as well as a silent auction. The event will take place in a new covered riding arena recently built on the back of the property.
Because the program is extremely hands on, it requires the assistance of several volunteers.
Helpers include high school and college students, adults and therapists, who sign up to lead horses, assist riders or help with other tasks around the farm, Morin said.
Morin currently has 21 children enrolled this semester, which consists of 10 to 12 weekly sessions. Registration fees vary from $330-$400 depending on the number of lessons per semester.
“The lessons for some children include grooming the horses as well as leading them and riding,” she said.
“A big part about horses and people is that connection, that bonding that happens,” Morin said.
Adult volunteer Ellen McGahee said she revels in seeing that connection made between horse and child as well as the interaction among parents.
“They come with a smile, and they leave with a smile,” she said.
For information about Blue Ribbon Riders, contact Morin at (706) 854-0644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.