Therapeutic Riding



By Karen Waite If you live in the Midwest, you may have noticed that it’s county fair season…that age old bastion of tradition, education (intentional and otherwise), drama, intrigue, teen romance, and corn dogs. Don’t get me wrong, I love county fairs and 4-H (which often go hand in hand). Both made me who I […]

via What to Do When The Fair Isn’t Fair — outoftheboxstall

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Shovel and bucket game

Most of our riding lessons end with a game that improve the rider’s skills. Some work on their riding ability, but others reach into their ability to learn as well as their social communication skills.

The game

Put and take games, like putting the shovel into the bucket, work on hand-eye coordination as well as color recognition. The students are handed a shovel. Their task is to recognize the color, find the bucket that matches the color of the shovel, and place the shovel into the bucket. They love it!

But what they don’t realize is that this game actually improves their ability to read and write. Hand-eye coordination is the eye following the hand in a particular task. In this case, putting the shovel into the bucket.

How it helps

The rider’s eyes follow the shovel until it reaches the bucket, then releases it. In reading and writing, the eyes follow the words on the page or the hand writing the words. The better the coordination the better the reader or writer. By practicing these movements with an object, the eyes and brain are being trained to follow an object in a particular pattern. Following the object in the hand is a spatially precise exercise. Once mastered, it can be easily adapted to both reading and writing because these following skills become automatic and the child does not have to think about it.

As more research is being conducted into the importance of hand-eye coordination in youngsters, we will continue to play games on horseback that will improve their ability to follow an object from their hand into a receptor.

Linda Watson-Call is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.

Stella’s Legacy

Saying good-bye to a loved one, whether human or furry, is never easy. And with Stella, it was an event I didn’t want to face, but knew it was inevitable, since she was now 28 years old.

The early years

We purchased Stella in November – Thanksgiving weekend to be exact – in 2003. We had just completed the pilot for our therapeutic riding program, and although our young, energetic horses were willing, I knew we needed what I lovingly called a “grandma” horse. Tom started by calling members of the Haflinger Association that we belonged to and stumbled across Stella. He checked her out, said she would be a good fit, and we purchased her.

tyler-scratching-stellas-ears-christmascamp2003She was about three inches shorter than the rest of the herd, and a little more drafty. To be honest, a lot draftier and about 250 pounds overweight. But, she was gentle, accepting of our riders, and eager to please.

A therapeutic horse has a big responsibility. The horse has to be able to accept riders with anxieties, or no balance, or sudden outbursts without reacting. It really goes against what we know about the fight or flight instinct that every horse possesses.

One of Stella’s first riders was a young boy who was terrified of moving on the horse. He would mount up, but his anxiety was so high, that it took almost the whole class to get him to walk two or three steps. Stella stood, and stood, and stood, barely moving her muscles so he wouldn’t panic. And when she did move, it was a small step.

Another rider came for her first “try” at riding and did not want to get on. So we brushed, Samantha demonstrates riding bareback on Stellaand brushed, and then brushed some more. Finally, the very young girl got on and took a stroll around the arena. Decided she liked it and rode for the next six years – strengthening her core, balance, and muscles. This same young girl could not ride a bicycle. After a few years of riding, she not only could ride, but eventually was able to do 25 mile rides to raise money to cure Juvenile Diabetes. Thanks Stella!

My husband swore Stella tiptoed around the arena whenever we had a more fragile child on her back. She was so totally aware of the passengers she was carrying.

The diagnosis

One of the things that I noticed early on with Stella was her lack of energy. Yes, she was calm and easy-going with the riders, but, it seemed that she was run out of energy and drag around the arena before the day’s lessons were completed. I wasn’t sure if it was her weight, diet, or something else. But, she appeared healthy and the vet didn’t seem over concerned.

Quinn uses the surcingle in his riding class.About four years later we lost a young horse and discovered she had Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM). We did our due diligence and had our entire herd tested for this disease. Stella came back positive. The horse we lost was 8 years old, Stella was 18! We worked with our vet and put Stella on a diet that would, at best, keep this disease in check.

Within a week Stella’s energy level changed. She did not drag herself around the arena and was eager to trot with the riders who were capable. I was concerned that her new energy level would change the way she handled our therapeutic riders – but it did not. She was definitely a steady-Eddie for our youngest and more fragile riders.

The last few years

I always felt that if a horse reached 25 years, every day after that is a blessing. A few years ago we had a winter of non-stop below zero weather. We do not stall our horses and I was concerned that we would lose Stella in the brutal winter. But her thick golden coat kept her warm enough.

Stella's last lesson.Then, two years ago she started losing weight. Our vet suggested feeding her separately and offer second cutting hay instead of first. She regained her weight and muscle in a very short period of time. Sometimes we think she enjoyed her special treatment. Nickering to us when we came into the barn as if to say, “I’m ready for breakfast, let me in!” We could open the door and she would go to “her” eating stall automatically – no lead line required.

But last fall, probably November, I noticed that although she still enjoyed coming to the arena for lessons, she was not willing to trot her young, light riders. She was definitely slowing down – not dragging – but a little slower than normal.

And so, as we said good-bye this past weekend, we ended the legacy of a horse that captured the heart of every rider she had as well as the parents of those riders. But her spirit will live on forever in our hearts and memories.

Linda Watson-Call is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.

max-on-poppie

We probably get a call or email a month from someone who wants to place their horse with us because we do therapeutic riding and they feel their horse would/could serve a noble purpose here.

The call usually starts with “I have a wonderful horse that would be great with kids. Mine are no longer interested.” Or “I really don’t want to put Buddy down, he’s only 26 and would love to give kids pony rides.” Or “She’s a great horse, she does have some lameness issues. We give her meds and she’s fine to do some light work.”

We feel for these callers. They do love their horses, but, they do not understand how demanding the work of a therapeutic horse could be.

No spooking allowed

That simple, no spooking. Yes, your horse may be great on trail rides with other horses. Can have bikes or cars pass without flinching, but what about the kid that belongs to the wiggle club? The rider that screams out for no apparent reason, other than displaying happiness? Or tosses the reins, pulls the reins, or tries acrobatic tricks while riding?

A horse in the therapeutic riding program has to be solid. Oh, a flinch, a quick head lift, or other similar response is fine. These are animals, they still have their sense of flight, but, they have to be trusting and calm regardless of the situation on their back.

No movement at all

Conversely, we have riders who do not move – at all. They are dead weight on the horse’s back. I sometimes equate it to a bag of potatoes, but, it’s more like a boulder. After all, the potatoes may shift in the bag, but a boulder? No movement unless it falls off!

That also means that we have to add 20% to the rider’s weight. So a hundred pound rider is now one hundred and twenty pounds. Okay, that’s not too bad, but, most of these riders are adults. So, even if you say your horse can carry two hundred pounds, as dead weight that becomes two hundred and forty pounds. And is that with or without the saddle?

No movement of the rider can also make the horse’s back muscles sore. The horse moves best when the rider’s movement is in sync with the horse. Will your horse be comfortable with dead weight?

People, offside, nearside, and other issues

Many of our riders require two side walkers as well as the person leading the horse. Some horses are very sensitive to being touched on the rump or hind quarters. When a person walks alongside a rider, sometimes they have to hold onto the rider’s gait belt. Their elbow rests on the area behind the saddle. Will the horse allow that or be uncomfortable?

We also have riders who require multiple boppy pillows to keep them upright. Or the rider who, even with the boppy pillows, falls forward on the horse’s neck.

Mounting the horse can also be an issue. We have one rider who has to back up to the horse, then, be lifted onto the horse and pull his right leg over the horse’s neck while the person on the ramp and another on the ground balances the rider so he doesn’t fall backwards. Very tolerant horse to put up with that.

We also have riders who, for various reasons, have to mount the horse from the offside. This takes training, as most people follow tradition and always mount from the nearside. Similarly, we train our horses to have the rider dismount on either side. More training is required for this task.

Consistency

The riders love their mount. They come in looking forward to riding their horse. If we have a horse who is not in good health, then the rider must switch to another horse. We all know the gait of each horse is different, so most of the lesson is spent adjusting to the new mount. Some of the riders will show concern that “their” horse is sick and that discussion encompasses the entire lesson.

Yes, horses do get sick and on occasion we have to switch horses for the rider, but, accepting a horse that may not be able to be ridden every week is not good for the rider.

Yes, being in a therapeutic riding program is a great job for some horses, but our experience has been that not every horse, no matter how great s/he is, has the capability and the stamina to work in our program. But those who do are worth their weight in gold!

Linda Watson-Call is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.

Morgan riding Desiree over poles.

Morgan riding Desiree over poles.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” ~ Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

One of the most frequent questions we hear at the barn is, “How often should my child take lessons?” Our answer usually is, we expect the rider to ride weekly. Our lessons are scheduled on the same day, same time for your convenience.

Some parents are satisfied with that answer, others wonder if riding twice a week would be beneficial, and others start to explain why weekly lessons aren’t doable.

This makes me wonder. If your child was taking music lessons, not only are the lessons usually weekly, but you would also have that instrument in the house and the child would be expected to practice daily. The same for ballet or any other skill that the child was learning.

Sports teams have games weekly or bi-weekly, and have practice almost daily. Swimmers try to get to the pool as often as possible to build skill and stamina for the meets.

So, why the reluctance to commit to a weekly riding lesson, especially when you do not have a horse to practice on?

Weekly lessons are designed to build on the acquired skills week after week. Horseback riding also uses core muscles that aren’t typically used in everyday activities. Muscle memory needs to be reinforced by performing the same activities over and over again. None of these will be accomplished by the occasional rider. Bi-weekly lessons can advance riding skills but not as much as weekly riding.

During the summer we have three weeks of day camp where everyone riders every day. The parents are surprised and pleased to see how much their child advances after one week of camp. The reason – practice, practice, practice.

So that brings us to the second question – would riding twice a week help. Most definitely, but we hesitate to have real young riders taking lessons that often. Although they would get better faster, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll advance twice as fast. There is a lot going on in the rider’s body and their connection is their horse.

If the issue with weekly riding is finances or arrangements, then, every other week is better than no lessons. But, if it’s scheduling or other activities are taking the priority, and the riding lessons would be once a month or so, then, maybe everyone should wait until a true commitment to riding can be made.

Commitment to regular lessons is what separates the “wanna be” from the person who really wants to do it.

Linda Watson-Call is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.

Equitation D_E winners

It’s that time of the year at our barn. Our annual horse show will be held on Saturday, August 13th. For our barn, we only do one show a year and it is a fun show. We feel our riders should have the experience of performing in front of other people. It also gives them the opportunity to invite their relatives and friends to watch them perform on their favorite horse.

For some of our riders this is an exciting, fun day; for others, they are concerned they won’t do good enough.

Yes, there will be a judge. Yes, she will score your ride. Yes, there will be ribbons based on that score. No, no one will think any less of you because of where you place.

What we try to impress on our riders is that a score and the subsequent ribbon is based on that moment in time. Given another ride, your score might be higher or lower. The same is true of the other riders. So there is no reason to get upset if you did not get the color you were hoping for. And even if you got a lower place this year than you did last year, there are other elements that could make the difference.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

The test

If you moved up a level in riding this year, the test will be more difficult or challenging for you. This is good. It will make you stretch to perform better.

If it is a new test, you may feel a little uncomfortable with it even though there is a reader telling you the next move. That’s okay too. In life you may find yourself in new situations. It’s what you make of the new situation that counts.

The score

The score is an accumulation of the points you received. If you rode the same test last year, compare your score against last year’s score. Did you improve? Probably. If you didn’t where did you fall short? Don’t compare your score against the other riders – even though the ribbon and placement are based on “the score” it’s best to compete against yourself.

The horse

How is your horse today? Your horse is part of your team. If your horse is having a bad day, it will reflect in your score. You could give your horse a pep talk, but chances are if her joints are hurting or if it extremely hot or cold, you aren’t going to get the same ride that you would under ideal conditions. You have to always take your horse into consideration.

The rider

You are the other half of that team. If you didn’t sleep well the night before, your horse will feel that you are tired and neither of you will perform well. The same thing if you are nervous, tense, or otherwise upset. If you can’t focus or concentrate, neither can your horse.

When you put all the pieces together the best way to approach you show is to relax, feel good about yourself and your horse, and smile – regardless of the color of the ribbon.

Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.

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Nearly every Therapeutic and beginner riding class at our facility ends with a game. Sometimes even the more experienced riders want to play games on horseback.

I find games are an excellent way to reinforce skills that would be “boring” if we practiced them as part of a riding lesson. And once the rider gets the concept, we can advance to the next level.

Here’s a sample of some games and the expected results:

Red light green light. Played on horseback the same way we play it on the ground. Reinforces asking the horse to walk on and stop.

Egg and spoon is a classic. The rider holds a long handles spoon with an egg or golf ball in the bowl part of the spoon. The object is to get from point A to point B without dropping the egg. Skill learned – soft, steady hands.

Chaos is a favorite in our barn for all riders. We play it with the holiday pictures on the arena wall or with objects on the barrels. The rider tries to be the first one to take the horse to the item called and stopping the horse at that item. Skill – focus!

Ring game. The rider moves a ring from one cone to another. We start by stopping the horse at the cone to retrieve or place the ring and advance to doing it without stopping the horse. This game improves motor skills and special relations as well as stopping and walking the horse.

Focus, following patterns, spatial relations are all essential to good riding. Why make a lesson boring when games can be the way to learn!

Linda Watson is the owner and head riding instructor at Pretty Pony Pastures. Visit the website for details on all the lessons and activities at this facility.

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