Have you ever heard about Equine-assisted therapy? Have you ever heard about horses being used in therapies? Yes it is exactly what you are thinking and what you imagine: A therapy assisted by a horse. It consists of a therapeutic team, a riding instructor and other volunteers, a horse, and the patient and the idea is to use the horse in order to help the patient regain certain skills. There are many types of therapies that use a horse and some of them don’t even require the person to ride the horse. Some types of therapies include Hippotherapy for speech and communication problems; Equine-assisted learning (EAL) that uses the horses to develop life skills; Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) which doesn’t require riding the horse but grooming it and doing ground exercises with it.
There is a non-profit organization in the Chicago area that uses these types of therapies to help children and adults with special needs get in touch with the beautiful and therapeutic experience of sharing time with a horse. The name of this charity is Victory Reins and they are providing therapeutic equine recreational activities for people to know, understand and benefit from the bond that is created between horse and rider.
The story started in the year 2007 when Sandy Michalewicz, who is the Founder and is still the Director of Victory Reins Therapeutic Riding Center, visited a community program in Oregon where they had an information clinic. After much praying and seeing the program and clinic at Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch Sandy knew what she had to do. She went back to her ranch and understood that she had to combine her passion for horses and children in order to create a program that could make a difference within the community. Since then the program has grown from 5 students to more than 40 steady students and they also host special needs groups that want to go for a day or half a day to use and visit the horses.
Victory Reins receives children and adults with any type of condition that can be managed through animal interaction. The starting age is 3 years old and some of the children and adults they have managed come with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrpohy, Spinal Muscular Atrophy and Downs Syndrome. Even people that are spiritually handicapped are accepted so they can experience the love and affection a horse can give.
We talk about horses because they are the ones that do all the work and the animal that most families want to use for their therapies. But the farm has many animals that can help as part of the therapy. They idea is to educate children and adults by having the experience with animals in a safe and supervised environment and give them benefits that can be seen in the physical, cognitive, and psychological areas. The relationship and interaction with animals awakens the patient´s awareness, increases coordination and attention and provides patients with a different attitude towards life.
So, what should people expect when they go to Victory Reins? And how are lessons designed and taught? People should expect a fun and relaxed atmosphere where they can participate from the first moment if they wish either by doing daily chores or by just sitting down and watching their child or relative interact with the horses. There are many things to do around the ranch and the diversity of people is amazing so people can see different gifts and talents and how they interact with horses and animals.
On the other hand, lessons are almost customized and tailor made depending on each person that goes to the ranch. The first step of the lesson is to introduce one of the ponies to the patients so they can know how to deal with the animal, how a horse behaves and what type of care the horse needs. Here, they let people interact hands on with the horses and they explain each step along so the patient and the person that is with the patient understands what is happening to his or her relative and to the horse. As mentioned before, riding is not the only activity that comes in the lesson. Other activities such as grooming, feeding, bathing, riding, cleaning a stall, preparing horses and helping out in daily chores around the barn are also available to interact with nature and with animals. Since each person is so unique, in Victory Reins they try to make everything as customized as possible so the real needs in every person are addressed and the therapies are even more efficient.
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