Horse therapy….sounds kind of strange. I must admit, I had a lot of doubts about what a horse could do for my son but “desperate times call for desperate measures”. When we first heard about the benefits of horse therapy for kids with special needs, Joshua was 4 and still not talking. We were told that a lot of children who struggled with Apraxia and other speech delays were known to make huge improvements with this form of therapy, so we figured that it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. Unfortunately, horse therapy is a hot commodity and there was a long waiting list to get in….so we signed up and waited…and waited…and waited. Months went by and then we finally got the call that Joshua could go for a summer session because a regular rider had decided not to ride for that session. We jumped on the opportunity and thus began a wonderful friendship between a boy and a horse. (Since then, a regular rider gave up their spot, so Joshua now has a year round spot, for which we are so thankful!)
I was so surprised when we went for Joshua’s first therapy session and he left me willingly to go climb on this giant animal that he had never seen so closely before. I had anticipated a screaming child who was afraid, but it was an instant bond and he absolutely LOVED it!
When we left that day, I remember buckling Joshua in his car seat and he looked at me and clearly said, “mama”. I think my jaw dropped and I just stared at him in amazement. It happened just that one time, but since then his babbling and attempts of more sounds has increased immensely. Some may say it was a coincidence, but I’m hopeful that this form of therapy will continue to expand his ability to talk and strengthen his low muscle tone among many other things.
How it works
While he rides, the instructor has the riders do various activities on the horse. One of Joshua’s favorite things is a wall with a board that has shapes cut out of it and he has to throw a bean bag through different openings. He’s actually a great shot! They do other exercises as well that encourage core building, as this is an area that many special needs kids struggle with.
Horse therapy also increases sensory input, helps with body rhythm and awareness, as well as works on posture. Children are encouraged to use verbal cues to make the horse stop and go. Joshua does hand gestures to tell the horse to “walk on” and “stop”. Educational needs are also incorporated into lessons, all while the children are riding.
High Hopes, where Joshua rides, is largely made up of volunteers. They do anything from helping with horses, cleaning stalls, and being a side walker to make sure a child stays on their horse. Joshua has been blessed to have a wonderful volunteer who signs up each session (anywhere from 6-12 weeks) to walk next to him and keep him safe. She gives up her time each and every Tuesday just to spend time with Joshua. We are so thankful for amazing people who want to invest in our son’s life. Without people like Ms. Barbara, High Hopes wouldn’t be able to allow as many children this wonderful opportunity.
Horse therapy is not without a price. We went into our first session not knowing what the cost would be and then halfway through the 6 week course, we received the bill and were told that they had used up almost all of their scholarship money already, so they couldn’t help us very much for that session. We really wanted him to continue riding and give this therapy a chance to work, but definately would not be able to cover the hundreds of dollars it was going to cost each session. We prayed about what to do and then got a letter in the mail telling us that an anonymous donor had paid for Joshua’s tuition. I cried. It was such an amazing gift and confirmation that Joshua was supposed to be in the program as well as a reminder that God always provides. Since then, we have been able to get scholarships that cover a large portion of the cost and allows Joshua to continue to participate without us going into debt.
If you have a child with any kind of special need, delay, need for PT, speech, or OT…I highly recommend giving horse therapy a try. The success stories are amazing. Joshua loves it and often signs “horse” to ask if it’s the day to go. He gets so excited when he wakes up on Tuesdays and I tell him it is the day he gets to see his “horsey”. His smile and obvious love for it, makes it worth the time and energy it takes to get him there every week.