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Horseback Therapy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Walking toward the barn, I hear a chorus of whinnies that makes me smile. I began volunteering at HorseAbility two years ago and have helped people of all ages and abilities learn to ride.

HorseAbility was started in 1993 by Katie McGowan after she witnessed a child with cerebral palsy riding a horse. Seeing the child's progress, she decided to found an organization that would provide physical therapy through riding. Therapeutic riding is helpful for people with social, emotional, and physical challenges. These riders strive to one day ride independently. Hippotherapy is for people who need therapy prescribed by a doctor. By horseback riding, the central nervous system and muscles are activated. Some hippotherapy riders eventually progress to the therapeutic riding program.

Volunteers at HorseAbility help the therapist or riding instructor with the rider, as well as do barn and office work. Staff members don't think of the participants as disabled; instead of focusing on what they are unable to do, HA focuses on their abilities. Riding can expand these abilities, lessening the disabilities.

Once, I witnessed this firsthand. I was assisting a rider who was nonverbal. We always interacted with her as if she were talkative. We said hello to her and encouraged her attempts to make sounds. One day, all of a sudden, we heard a small voice say “Hello.” Her proud parents had tears in their eyes as they witnessed this accomplishment. Although I never saw her again, I know she is out there somewhere telling someone, “I love you.”

During my time at HA, I have noticed that even though the program is for people with special needs, I have benefited as well. By being around people who are so different from me, I have learned to interact naturally with special needs people. This is because I have discovered that those with special needs are not that different from me. Just like me, they love horses. Also, I have learned that with work, anyone is capable of anything. Sometimes, when I think I can't do something, I remember these riders. With grim determination, they face challenges I can't even imagine, and over time they overcome many obstacles.

I have also learned a lot about life by volunteering at HA. When I see a person who is normally confined to a wheelchair sitting tall atop a horse, moving freely, I know I am part of something very special. The horse and rider become one, moving together, understanding each other. The power of animals has always interested me. Just by sitting on a horse and feeling the four-beat walk, a flailing child calms down. These animals provide a type of therapy that humans cannot.

During my time at HorseAbility, I have matured. I have seen miracles. Through these miracles, lives are lived to the fullest and joy is spread: to the riders, horses, parents, instructors, and me. I hope that one day I can find a way to thank the people and horses who have made my life so much better.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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