4-H TEAM And Miss. Horse Park Combine To "Focus On Abilities, Not Disabilities"
by Tom Burriss
Mary Ford serves as the 4-H TEAM coordinator at the Mississippi State University. She has been able to establish programs in Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherapy in conjunction with the facilities available at the Mississippi Horse Park.
The Mississippi State University Extension Service 4-H TEAM (Therapeutic Equestrian Activity Member) is a program that promotes therapeutic riding through educational and research-based activities. 4-H TEAM's goal is to develop a model therapeutic riding program based on North America Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) guidelines, which regulate consistent safety and professional standards.
Therapeutic riding a specialized equine activity that provides physical, emotional, and psychological benefits to individuals with special needs. Through carefully planned activities developed by a health professional and a certified riding instructor, the horse is used as a treatment tool to help the rider achieve his or her goals.
The movement of the horse at a walk provides sensory input that stimulates normal muscle responses in the human. The horse functions as a therapy tool unlike any piece of equipment developed by man: the horse's three dimensional, swinging gait simulates the movements of a human pelvis, trunk and shoulder girdle when walking.
"The structure of a horse's pelvis is nearly identical to a human pelvis, except that it is tilted at ninety degree's," says Ford.
Hippotherapy is similar in nature to Therapeutic Riding, but the goals are much different. For the rider, it is not so much the riding that is important, but the type of activity. The fluid and rhythmic motion of a horse is the key.
Third-grader Nicholas Hagerman travels from Aliceville, Ala. for his hippotherapy sessions. You can see his determination and confidence as he gives commands to the volunteers whether to go or stop with the horse, or to go left or right; he reaches for cones to stack while he rides, and places rings over the poles. Doing the rings with his left hand is particulary hard, especially since the therapist is on the right side. He makes a small fuss, but leans and successfully grabs three rings to put on the poles. The rest of the time a smile is clearly visible throughout his session.
Ford explained that the horse has 90 to 110 steps per minute while walking. Combined with 30 movements to take each step, that translates to 3,000 movements per minute. Movements which the body of the rider must either move with, contrary, or in reaction (such as for balance) that they may not normally be doing. They may also be doing extra activities to achieve even greater motion. Such as having to stack cones while riding, place rings on pole while still mounted, and even blowing bubbles while riding backwards. You can often see the extra concentration for some to perform the double duty, and for others the practice has paid off.
In addition to physical benefits for the rider (such as improved posture, muscle strength, and trunk balance), a human and animal bond develops between the rider and the horse, providing psychological benefits for the rider. Sitting astride a horse also can give the rider a sense of independence and increased self-esteem.
Kristen Kenard was born with tuberous sclerosis, a condition which causes calcification in many parts of her body. Now 14, Kristen has enjoyed and benefited from her therapy.
"She doesn't say that she is going to therapy when she is coming here," says her Dad. "She always says she is going riding."
For Kristen, childhood was rough. Infantile spasms would plague her body, 80-100 per day.
Her attention span has been the most noticable improvement to her father and her school.
"When she comes here, she gives 110 percent. She knows she must keep doing well to come back."
Individuals of all ages, disabilities, and conditions can benefit from therapeutic riding, including people with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, learning disabilities, spina bifida, spinal cord injuries, visual and hearing impairments, cardiovascular accidents and strokes, brain injuries, amputation, mental retardation, multiple-sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.
Linda O'Neal is an adult rider in the program. She had a stroke which left her paralyzed on the left side. Linda had never ridden a horse prior to the therapy provided by TEAM.
For her the worst part is galloping. "It churns me up a bit."
But she points out the improved strength in her leg and arm by going through the motions with them.
Besides the riders, local communities, 4-H members and volunteers can benefit from opportunities associated with therapeutic riding.
Such as Amy Cade, who is a Technology Coordinator in the Department of Geosciences at MSU. She was looking for a program such as this that was nearby.
"I was searching the web from my office right on campus. I was looking through the listings when I found the opportunity right here."
The department head, Dr. Mark Binkly, allows her to take one day a week off to serve with TEAM. She is now even interested in starting her own program.
Another committed volunteer is Kay Arnette. She generally works the night shift in admissions at a hospital. When she comes to volunteer, it will be after a long shift that she spends her day with those who need the help.
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Before a rider begins the 4-H TEAM program, his or her parents, teachers, counselors or therapists, and the riding instructor establish goals.
"Each rider will have different goals depending on their disability," says Ford
Periodic conferences are scheduled to assess each rider's progress toward the goals.
Glenda Tranum is the attending Physical Therapist. She walks along seperately from the support volunteers and the person leading the horse and runs the rider through a battery of activites, exercises and games.
Some of the riders may never get out of the Hippotherapy, while others may develop function to be in the Therapuetic Riding and further learn to ride.
Heather Bushlawn of Louisville, Mississippi, had a stroke and traumatic brain injury leaving her left side paralyzed. Prior to the accident she had been an avid horse rider. Now she is learning to ride again and strengthening her body. She was all too happy to show me how well she was able to move her leg back and forth. Something she was not able to do.
The Team provides so much, and still has many needs. Mary Ford noted their willingness to accept good used tack, but tops on her wish list is a good calm pony.
For more information on the 4-H TEAM program call Mary Ford at 662-325-3350.
Resources cited: TEAM: Therapuetic Equine Acitivity Member; Mississippi State University Extension Service #M1182 (1M-4-01).
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