Ethan and Connor Occhipinti have spent plenty of time in clinical settings for physical therapy.
Based on their perception of therapy from those experiences, riding a horse on the farm could never be in the same category. Or could it?
"They don't realize they're doing therapy. They just think they're horseback riding," said the 5-year-old twins' mother, Shauna. "They think it's cool and they get to tell all their friends."
The experience is part of a hippotherapy program called Blue Ribbon Riders. The non-profit program, founded in 1995, is run by Claudia Morin at Maple Knoll Farm in Grovetown.
According to the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, of which Blue Ribbon Riders is a premier accredited center, hippotherapy uses "the movement of the horse as a treatment strategy" to "address impairments, functional limitations and disabilities in patients with neuromusculoskeletal dysfunction."
Blue Ribbon Riders depends on volunteers to guide young riders, who learn balance and mobility atop the horse through specific exercises and movements. Those students who master the early techniques and who are able can move on to actually riding the horse, rather than being led by the volunteer.
"They need to do all that before they can hold reins and sit in the saddle properly," said Morin, an occupational therapist and hippotherapy clinical specialist.
Up to 25 volunteers serve the program in both the spring and fall semesters. There were 20 riders who participated last spring, and they attended once per week.
For the upcoming fall semester, rider evaluations will be held Aug. 11. Volunteer training will be held Aug. 16 and 18, and the riding program will start Aug. 30.
The program primarily serves children, starting at age 3, but in certain situations adults are admitted.
Blue Ribbon Riders serves children with conditions ranging from impaired coordination, communication or sensorimotor function to abnormal reflexes or decreased mobility. Students might have cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or autism.
Quite often, Morin says, parents of those who go through the program will report that their children now talk to other people, when they didn't previously, and sleep better at night.
Dianette Rodriguez says that the results have been tremendous for her 4-year-old son, Efrain, who has been in the program since February. She believes that, in addition to the benefits of the movement of the horse, the riding of the horse is vital.
"I think that contact of the animal is very important," Rodriguez said. "After the first time on the horse, he ran and he jumped and said, 'Mommy, mommy, I love the horse!' He's not scared or anything, and he loves it."
Registration fees range from $330 to $400, depending on the number of lessons scheduled. Those interested should contact Morin at (706) 854-0644 or email@example.com.
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