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Special Needs, Special Horses

A Guide to the Benefits of Therapeutic Riding

Naomi Scott

Publication Year: 2005

A growing number of individuals with special needs are discovering the benefits of therapies and activities involving horseback riding. Special Needs, Special Horses , by Naomi Scott, offers information about the amazing results possible with therapeutic riding, or hippotherapy. From recreational riding for individuals with disabilities, to the competitions some riders enter (and win), Scott describes the various techniques of the process and its benefits to the physically and mentally challenged. The book explores the roles of the instructors, physical therapists, volunteers, and the horses, and explains carriage driving, vaulting, and educational interactions with horses. Scott profiles individuals involved in the therapy, including clients whose special needs arose from intrauterine stroke, cerebral palsy, transverse myelitis, Parkinson’s disease, paralysis, sensory integration dysfunction, multiple sclerosis, shaken baby syndrome, sensory damage, stroke, seizures, infantile spasms, Down syndrome, and autism. Special Needs, Special Horses is an excellent guide for the families of the many who do—or could—enjoy improved lives from therapeutic riding. It will also appeal to practitioners of therapeutic riding as an overview of their profession.

Published by: University of North Texas Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I highly recommend Special Needs, Special Horses for anyone wanting to learn about equine assisted activities, or therapeutic riding. Written in an easy to read format, the author fulfills an informational and educational need that has existed for a long time in the industry. Before this text, those who wanted to know more about equine assisted activities for the ...

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Preface / Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

“Walk on!” a soft voice commands from atop a thousand-pound horse. The animal responds, one volunteer leading, and one on either side holding the child’s knee to give security. An instructor follows, closely directing a session of therapeutic horseback riding. Equine assisted activities is the umbrella term preferred by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) for ...

Part I: Therapeutic Riding and Activities

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Chapter 1: Description

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pp. 3-10

A fourteen-year-old with cerebral palsy, frail of limb but stout with courage, grips the surcingle handle tightly. His body sways slightly with each stride of his palomino mount as it is led around a large arena. Another volunteer and I walk on either side, holding him firmly on the bareback pad, supporting his thighs, offering smiles and praise....

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Chapter 2: Benefits

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pp. 11-16

The benefits of equine assisted activities (EAA) or therapeutic riding, though numerous and varied, can be grouped into four categories: physical, psychological, functional (cognitive), and educational. Because a horse’s gait closely emulates that of a human, horseback riding gently and rhythmically moves the rider’s body in a manner com-...

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Chapter 3: Origin and History

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pp. 17-24

Therapeutic horseback riding as a structured, organized, controlled modality, is relatively recent on this continent. NARHA is only a little over thirty years old. Activities for the challenged, involving horses in ways other than riding, are gaining popularity, including mental health treatments, carriage driving and vaulting. To encompass these programs, ...

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Chapter 4: Instructors and Therapists

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pp. 25-30

Imagine how scary it might be for a young rider, way up there on that huge horse, higher off the ground than he’s ever sat before, feeling motion he has never known before. Then think how the parents feel. It must be traumatic for them to see their precious young guy or gal, of whom they are so protective, helped onto this great animal and led ...

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Chapter 5: Owners, Community, and Volunteers

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pp. 31-38

Instructors and therapists conduct the actual sessions but facilities, and a lot of support, are also necessary. A good example of a NARHA center is Rocky Top Therapy Center, established in 1990 by Doug and Vivian Newton, at their Rocky Top Ranch, Keller, Texas. The center has achieved NARHA premier accredited status, and has grown to annually serve two hundred...

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Chapter 6: Horses

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pp. 39-46

They carried us into battle. They tilled our land. They transported us. Time and high tech marched on, and they were relegated largely to our entertainment. Now horses are again called on for a vital service—to help strengthen the frail of body, and inspire the frail of mind.The young riders, however, think of the therapy horse more in terms ...

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Chapter 7: Procedures for Riding Sessions

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pp. 47-52

The best approach to initiating a riding program is to contact NARHA to locate the nearest center. Call the center and have a preliminary discussion with an instructor or therapist about the candidate’s history.1 NARHA’s “Precautions & Contraindications” delineate physical conditions which could possibly lead to adverse effects from riding. Guide-...

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Chapter 8: Recreational Riding—with profile of Amy

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pp. 53-60

The objective of recreational riding is more toward enjoyment and social pleasure, plus learning horsemanship skills, while reaping physical and mental benefits from the horse’s motion. These riders often start with private lessons, then find it more fun to join a group where the members interact with each other. The usual tack is a western or English saddle, although a bareback ...

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Chapter 9: Hippotherapy—with profile of Cory

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pp. 61-68

As stated earlier, Hippotherapy provides medical treatment, the objective being specifically the improvement of neuromotor function, with no riding skills taught. A session, always with only one client, requires a therapist (physical, occupational, speech pathologist, or assistant, who is also trained to administer hippotherapy), a leader, and one or two ...

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Chapter 10: Alternative Activities—Vaulting and Carriage Driving

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pp. 69-76

Vaulting has been referred to as ‘a dynamic approach to therapeutic riding’ by Gisela H. Rhodes, M.Ed., internationally acclaimed authority and instructor of traditional vaulting. “What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘vaulting?’” Rhodes asked. “Perhaps you envision a horse wildly cantering in a circle, with children standing on the horse doing flips and other hair-raising stunts? ...

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Chapter 11: Competition

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pp. 77-84

The impetus for therapeutic horseback riding becoming the organized, worldwide activity we know today, literally originated in the show arena with the courageous lady, Liz Hartel of Denmark.1 Her well publicized triumph of overcoming impaired mobility from polio to win a Silver Medal in Grand Pris Dressage at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics is generally credited with calling attention...

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Chapter 12: Private Riding Program—with profile of Erika

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pp. 85-90

Riding a horse can be a gateway to relief of pain, strengthening of muscles, and heightened self-esteem. The warmth of the animal, the reassuring touch of sidewalkers, and soft words of encouragement from an instructor or therapist create a separate world having its own rules and standards of normalcy. In this world, the challenged find new hope ...

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Chapter 13: Starting a New NARHA Center

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pp. 91-98

Therapeutic horseback riding has enjoyed tremendous growth since the first program was established in North America in 1969. In just over three decades, the numbers jumped to more than 800 NARHA centers, serving more than 42,000 clients annually.1 With demand outgrowing supply, a lot of programs have a waiting list of up to a year and a half. In ...

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Chapter 14: Helping Troubled Youth

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pp. 99-104

Emotional distress can be devastating. It doesn’t show on the outside, except by a person’s actions, and is often misunderstood and discounted, the troubled person told to “just get over it.” Of course it’s not that easy, especially for children. Rocky Top Therapy Center’s program, Right TRAIL™,1 begun in 1994, has helped children cope with emotional problems by teaching ...

Part II: Profiles

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Chapter 15: Leah—Intrauterine Stroke

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pp. 107-112

...“Chesto! Wheo Chesto?” The soft voice came from the direction of the arena entryway. I looked up to see a little girl with huge blue eyes and a sunny smile leaning on a tiny walker. “I wanna wide Chesto!” she said with a little more volume. I finished saddling a big bay, breathing the earthy scents of horse and oiled leather, and stepped from the stall. I walked toward the client, ...

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Chapter 16: Brandon—Cerebral Palsy

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pp. 113-120

One day while I sat in the reception room to get a respite from the Texas heat in the arena, the front door opened. A beautiful lady with dark curls and a ready smile entered, pushing a wheelchair in which sat a frail teenager with his arms around a little boy perched in his lap. Instructor Tracy Winkley1 came in from her office, greeted them and ...

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Chapter 17: Barbara—Transverse Myelitis

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pp. 121-126

One of the purposes of this book is to inspire people to “be the best that you can be,” to quote an old familiar phrase. Barbara Lamb is the epitome of this sentiment. In high school, Barbara won awards for her art, helped kids as a volunteer through an organization called PALS, (Peer Assistant Leadership Service), worked as an usher at the local major league baseball field, ...

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Chapter 18: Larry—Parkinson’s Disease

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pp. 127-132

“I’m sleeping six and a half to seven hours straight now. Before I started riding, many nights I didn’t sleep more than two or three, because of back pain.” Larry Walls said this less than two months after he began hippotherapy. Dr. Ronald Faries, D.C., remarked on Larry’s progress at this stage in the riding program: “His balance, strength, and stamina...

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Chapter 19: Kate—Paralysis, Auto Accident

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pp. 133-138

Kate Stuteville was a good athlete. She had fun in the first grade, particularly while playing sports. She was also a good student and enjoyed learning. Before she knew it, the first semester ended and holiday vacation had come. More fun times for Kate—her first Christmas as a student, not just a little kid any more. Neat things under the tree, like ...

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Chapter 20: Alicia—Sensory Integration Dysfunction

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pp. 139-144

At first, Alicia’s parents, Lisa and Ron Wettig, thought, “There’s no way she’s going to get on a horse.” Now their daughter has a roomful of trophies, belt buckles, medals, and ribbons she has won in horse shows. But at five years old, Alicia didn’t like to be in high places, and she would not put herself in any position she thought might throw her off ...

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Chapter 21: Tracy—Multiple Sclerosis

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pp. 145-150

“If I miss my ride, the next week I walk into the arena using my cane. When I finish riding and dismount, I walk away and forget the cane. I don’t need it anymore,” Tracy Roberson said, reaching down to pat her horse’s neck. “It’s completely amazing.” After agreeing to tell me her story later, she said “Walk on,” and from only the pressure of her legs squeezing his sides, her big buckskin ...

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Chapter 22: Stephen—Shaken Baby Syndrome

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pp. 151-154

“Without riding I don’t think Stephen would be walking with a walker now,” nurse Roxann Martin-White said. “People need to know Stephen White is a lucky seven-year-old. Yes, he has endured appalling trauma in his short life and has serious medical problems. Still he is lucky, because he can call Roxann and Joe White his parents. ...

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Chapter 23: Milan—Sensory Damage, Auto Accident

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pp. 155-158

Milan McCorquodale is a very determined young man. He wanted a basketball scholarship. No matter that he wasn’t exceptionally tall—he had talent. He worked hard, practicing day and night, and he earned the coveted scholarship. Graduating from high school, he looked forward to playing four years of collegiate basketball at an Alabama university. It was not to be. A car crash sent him to the hospital with traumatic...

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Chapter 24: Lynn—Paralysis, Skiing Accident

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pp. 159-166

From cantering through Texas countryside teeming with thousands of Monarch butterflies, to cantering around an arena to thunderous applause from fans cheering riders from around the world—this is the trail taken by World Class Rider Lynn Seidemann. Representing the United States in the 2000 Paralympic Games, Sidney, Australia, winning a ...

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Chapter 25: Andrew—Infantile Strokes, Possible DPT Reaction

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pp. 167-173

Andrew Levy first had surgery when he was seven, to stretch his right hamstring and heel cord. Six years later, another surgery was performed, a heel fusion to stabilize his foot. About three months after the hamstring surgery, as soon as the cast came off, Andrew began hippotherapy, and he has been riding ever since.“The doctor said it is usually necessary to repeat the first opera-...

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Chapter 26: Ben—Infantile Seizures

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pp. 173-178

Hemispherectomy. What a chilling word. Probably one most of us have not heard before. Yes, it means what it sounds like—removing one-half of the brain.1 Imagine the heartbreak of being told your beautiful two-year-old son needed a hemispherectomy. This is what happened to the parents of Benjamen Schwalls, Michael and Michelle of Fort Worth, Texas. After hearing of Ben’s dramatic surgery and recovery, I arranged ...

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Chapter 27: Nick—Down Syndrome

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pp. 179-182

At a Special Olympics horse show, thirteen-year-old Nick Hogan, a veteran of many years in the saddle, walked around eating a bag of French fries and visiting folks along the shedrow. Several people teasingly asked him for one of his fries, and he would turn away, protecting his snack. As he walked up to me, he fished out a long, shiny fry, dripping with catsup, ...

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Chapter 28: Seth and Noah—Autism

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pp. 183-188

Equine assisted activities offer many and varied benefits. Charlotte and Tom Gile, parents of both Seth and Noah, envision an important one I hadn’t heard or thought about before. “We know Seth won’t go to college,” Mrs. Gile said. “Our long-range hope for his future is that he might work with horses, perhaps on a ranch, with the knowledge and experience he is gaining. That would ...

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Chapter 29: Miracles and Research

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pp. 189-190

Those who administer equine assisted activities and therapy enthusiastically extol its benefits. Summarizing the results from riding she has observed, Instructor Jessica Whaylen said, “The best part of my job is that I see miracles every day.”1 As previously mentioned, many organizations, concerned with the health and activities of the physically and mentally challenged, recog-...


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pp. 191-193


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pp. 194-206


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pp. 207-213


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pp. 214-215


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pp. 216-226

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413373
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574411904

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 30 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2005