Heroes On Horseback

Horseback Heroes

Hardeeville Today

Erinn McGuire

September 27, 2008

Use link below to view onlne edition: Pages 16-17





HEAD: Hardeeville kids saddle up
SUBHEAD: Heroes on Horseback provides therapy in the saddle.
HEAD: Horseback heroes
SUBHEAD: Special needs children from Hardeeville Elementary and Middle schools take to the ring like champs.
BYLINE: Erinn McGuire
BYLINE2: Hardeeville Today
Info Box: To learn more about Heroes on Horseback log onto www.heroesonhorseback.org or by calling 757-5606.
Info box: Therapeutic horseback riding offers disabled riders an opportunity to relax tightened muscles and improve stability and balance. Heroes on Horseback offers a variety of riding programs that focus on learning and promote physical exercise using the horse for rhythm, motion and motivation. Psychological benefits include increased independence, motivation and self-control.
Source: www.heroesonhorseback.org
Brizeyda Martinez placed her left hand at the nape of the horse’s neck and shoulder, near his saddle. Her foot was slipped into the stirrup and with a little help she swung her right leg up and over the wide back of the Luke, a 1,200 pound gelding.
After being reminded to sit up straight, Brizeyda gave the command: Walk on. The horse moved forward and a smile swept across the 12-year-old girl’s face.
The smile remained on Brizeyda’s face for the entire lesson.
It was the first time the girl rode a horse. It won’t be her last.
For the next eight weeks, Brizeyda, along with seven of her classmates, will participate in riding classes with Heroes on Horseback at Running W Farm in Pritchardville.
Heroes on Horseback is a nonprofit organization that offers horse therapy for mentally and physically or emotionally disabled children and adults.
This is the first time children from Hardeeville Elementary and Middle schools have participated.
“They’re just so excited,” said special education teacher Delia Istrate. “They weren’t afraid at all.”
While the majority of the students in Thursday’s class do not have physical disabilities, they do struggle developmentally or have specific learning impairments and one child has autism, Istrate said.
The interaction between the horse and the child promotes confidence and offers a new experience, Istrate said. Many of the children had never even been around a horse.
“This is going to make such a good memory for them of school,” she said. “I think this experience is so important for the kids.”
Equine-assisted psychotherapy addresses a variety of mental health and human development needs including behavioral issues, anxiety and communication needs, according to Heroes on Horseback.
It’s also a good workout.
While walking in a circle around one of the dirt rings, the children were instructed to place their hands on the horse’s shoulders and stand up in the stirrups.
“Wave at me,” said instructor Leslie Sullivan. “Now wave at me with both hands. Find the balance.”
She reminded the children to use control and not just plop back down into the saddle.
“Gently now. Remember this is a horse’s back,” she said.
The 40-minute lesson also included a game of “musical stable,” and coordination game that involved brightly colored plastic rings and green buckets. All of the riders were accompanied by three volunteers who either lead the horse or walked beside the horse and rider.
The children are taught not only to ride, but also learn about the entire horse, said Emily Newman, a Heroes board member and regular volunteer.
“The students need to know all about the horse,” she said. “It helps them to connect with the horse. It’s important to learn about caring for the animal you’re riding.”
“Not only is this where the rider experiences responsibility and discipline but also the satisfaction that comes with caring for another living being,” the organization’s Web site says.
While Brizeyda and her classmate, 11-year-old Tybria Washington, rode around the ring, several other students gathered around two horses in a nearby paddock.
Volunteers gently lifted one of the horse’s hooves and explained about its shoes and the importance of keeping a horse’s hoof clean. They also brushed the horse and were warned about walking behind such large animals.
Grooming and tacking addresses fine and gross motor skills, spatial awareness, vocabulary, memory, endurance, attention span and hand-and-eye coordination.
Annegret Kmeth of Bluffton said she volunteers because, “We get at least as much out of this as the kids do.”
Done with the lesson, Brizeyda gently slid off Luke and ran toward her teachers, still smiling.
When asked what were her feelings were while riding, her answer was simple: “Happy.”
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