Physical Therapist’s View

Maxine Gunter PTAs a physical therapist in the Mustang school system, I have had the privilege of accompanying the Special Education students to Coffee Creek Riding Center. Even with 18 years experience working with handicapped children and adults, I must fight back tears when I see a great big smile spread across the face of a new student with severe physical limitations, the first time he gets to sit on a horse and ride.Each student is required (with whatever assistance is needed) to greet his horse, go to the ramp, mount and ride. Usually this requires three volunteers: one to lead the horse and two to walk on either side. Saddles are not used with our little students at this stage in their training, but they ride with a large soft pad and a surcingle with two handles. Riding helmets are also required for safety.Many of our little children are dependent upon others for their mobility, but when they are riding, their legs are replaced by the legs of the horse and wheelchairs are left behind. Cognitive and physical benefits occur from riding. Motor planning skills, improvement of posture, and vestibular stimulation are among the physical benefits. Sensory stimulation from tactile, auditory, visual, skeletal, and vestibular systems is experienced. However, the kids don’t know they are stretching their hamstring and lower back extensors, and stimulating their joint proprioceptors; they just thought they were leaning forward to give their horse a hug. Or that they were increasing trunk rotation, weight shifting, increasing strength and range of motion, visual tracking, and increasing self-esteem, when they were only shooting a ball through a basketball hoop.Horseback riding is an activity every child at some time or another dreams of doing. Because of Coffee Creek, handicapped children have the opportunity for this dream to come true. Provided free to these kids by the wonderful people who volunteer their time and charitable contributions, this is a tremendous opportunity for the children and for those of us fortunate to share the experience.