More MS news articles for Oct 2001

Horses offer hope for disabled riders

October 22, 2001
By:Ed Phillips, Correspondent 
Horses and people do wonderful things together in North Granby.

Up a little road off Route 189 in North Granby near the Massachusetts line, some gentle horses and some dedicated people are accomplishing wonders for about 65 disabled riders.

Dan, a cerebral palsy victim over in New York, was bitter and angry. He was frustrated and uncontrollable. Then he sat astride a horse at a therapeutic riding center. "I used to feel like I couldn't do anything; I was no good. Then I started riding and it made me feel normal. I feel like I can do anything on a horse....I feel like I can hop on a horse and ride into the sunset."

The curtain of trees beside Route 189 quickly opens into a parklike campus area. On the opposite side of an outdoor riding ring circled by a track sit a stable, paddocks, an indoor 100 foot by 200 foot riding arena, an administration building and horses of all shapes and sizes. This is Equistrides in Woodhaven.

The ten animals may differ in appearance but they are alike in the ways that count. They are gentle, well-mannered, trained to work with handicapped riders, tolerant and intelligent. Executive Director Jeanna Franklin pointed out that Equistrides' horses are "typically middle-aged horses." No headstrong youngsters here.

These horses seem to understand the importance of what they give to sufferers with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities. They bring joy and hope to people who have had too little of either in their lives.

Riders come to Equistrides with a variety of problems including but not only autism, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, learning handicaps, and hearing and seeing difficulties. Some riders rely on the wheelchair accessible ramp and lift.

But there's a lot more to it than just climbing or being lifted onto the back of a horse. Each rider is assessed for individual needs and the ability to benefit from an equestrian program. Then, if the potential rider's needs fall within the scope of Equistrides' service, a personal program is developed.

Equistrides' registered physical therapist, Linda Heines, and the registered therapeutic instructors select the correct horses and activities for the rider. Some horses must have narrow backs to carry riders with tight or improperly developed legs and hips. Woody is a Welsh pony now in training who will carry riders who need a horse with a narrow back.

Breed is not as important as the right personality and the ability to learn. Franklin said that the horses come for a thirty day trial then continue training. "We want to know how they are going to react."

Rhett is a newcomer still in his trial period. He is a halflinger pony, a rugged little draft animal. Cameo is a sweet tempered 19 year old Appaloosa who is good for riders working on their riding skills.

Franklin said that with 18 stalls they can use more horses and volunteers. Horses in some cases are purchased and in others are donated. Volunteers on the other hand are neither purchased nor donated. They come of their own free will and love what they are doing whether it is guiding or grooming horses or working in the office.

Board President Janice Reynolds said the volunteers are, "very caring and sensitive people." She told about one volunteer who is a school teacher. He asked, "Why do I feel more fulfilled in one hour on Saturday than I do all week?" She said he now volunteers more than once a week.

Reynolds and her husband Rod became acquainted with children in the Children's Village near where they lived in West Hartford. They wanted to do something. They visited a therapeutic riding stable and saw what therapeutic riding could do. She said, "A horse's movement stimulates the rider's body in a manner that closely resembles the gait of a human. This can promote muscle strength, better posture, balance, coordination and increased endurance." They also learned that, "for those with special mental or emotional needs, relationships formed with horses and volunteers can lead to increased confidence, patience and self-esteem."

"This is important," they concluded and in March, 2000 they founded Equistrides.

Equistrides belongs to the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. NARHA lists more than 500 centers in the United States and Canada and sets the standards for programs and instructors.

Jeanna Franklin can provide information about Equistrides at (860) 844-0342. She said they welcome volunteers and provide training. The volunteers include individuals with many different interests and schedules, parents and high school kids.

©Valley News 2001