By: Jessie Chrobocinski Photos by: Aaron Garcia
Horseback riding is not only a relaxing and de-stressing activity; it’s also a great way to exercise. Depending on the level of intensity, the type of riding engages your pelvic muscles, adductors, hip flexors, quadriceps, and hamstrings. From trail excursions to trotting around a drill course, riders are required to engage their core muscles. In fact, horseback riding uses the entire body, making it a great form of exercise and a unique tool for therapy programs.
Not too far from the coast of Oso Bay rests a stable of horses at Glenoak Therapeutic Riding Center. The accredited equine-assisted therapy at Glenoak serves as rehabilitation for all ages with physical, mental, emotional, and cognitive disabilities.
Charlene Thomas, founder and an Equest Certified Instructor, said, “What we try to do is get [the rider] as independent as their particular circumstances allow them. We don’t address the disability. We address the ability.”
From muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and Down syndrome to cerebral palsy, hearing or vision impairment, paralysis, attention deficit disorders, autism, and more, Glenoak’s certified therapeutic riding instructors and the Center’s special therapy horses are the catalyst for miracles in handicapped lives.
Emphasized individual attention and motivation is both staff- and volunteer-intensive, but the reward for every rider is directly proportional to the effort expended. Glenoak’s philosophy challenges disabled riders to achieve their maximum potential by helping them achieve the most complete independence that their circumstances will allow.
“I have one individual that comes to us, and he’s so tight through [his pelvic area]. He was a twin and born with cerebral palsy,” Thomas said gently. “What I do with him is lay him back down and put his legs around my hips as I’m seated backward on the withers of the horse, so that as we progress, the heat from the horse relaxes him. Because when he starts, he’s [tense]. When we get going, and he’s relaxed, he begins to flatten out [his back]. I’m then able to do arm extensions and leg extensions with him. He’s happy because it’s non-weight bearing for him, which it has to be, and he’s getting all the movement from the horse throughout his body. That’s just one way I improvise different techniques to maximize reaching their maximum potential.”
Equine-assisted therapy provides an array of benefits, from strengthening and stretching muscles to coordination, balance, and fine motor activities. Riders are taken through a complex series of movements that consciously and subconsciously utilize full-body training. As the horse rhythmically moves the body, this naturally improves posture, balance, and muscle control. This form of therapy also enhances mental function by developing spatial awareness and engaging concentration, sequential thought processes, and emotional articulation.
“Cognitive-wise, what happens in this situation, [riders] have an instructor telling them what to do. Then they have to process that internally and tell the horse what to do. So it’s a three-step sequential process,” Thomas said.
As riders experience independence, some for the first time in their lives, new abilities, self-discipline, and improved concentration nurture positive self-image and increase self-confidence. Glenoak’s program focuses on aiding children and adults to reach beyond the confines of their disabilities through the intervention of unique therapy and a remarkable team.
1517 Glenoak D