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Healing hearts with horses

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Special thanks to Grand Arabian for allowing us to photograph Grand Anastasia, a show horse, for illustrative purposes. Photo by Jonathan D. Lopez

By Mary Rinks – Collegiate Staff

To a lot people horses are just animals, but to me they are more important than that. From having a bad day at school, to losing a family member, horses have been there for me. They have a calming effect on many people. When I had bad days in high school I would grab a brush to groom them or watch them graze and run around. There are so many areas within the equine field that intrigue me.

One intriguing area is therapeutic riding for the disabled.
People with disabilities and their families often find it hard to cope and horses can help. A lot of patients enjoy horseback riding, because it gets them out of the house or out of a wheelchair. There are many types of therapy that help people with disabilities. One of these is Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding in Rockford.

The farm has a beautiful, with a big barn that can be seen from the road through the trees. The Equest Center staff works with people of all ages and they do not take no for an answer.

“We have gained so much during the 25 years we have been a non-profit organization,” said Kelly Alcock owner of the Equest Center. “Our goals are based off of what we get from the doctors and what news we receive from the parents.

The farm has developed from 7 acres to 35 acres and from 16 riders a week to 150 riders a week.”

Brooke Jenkins, 21, has Spina-bifida and, she started at the center when she was only 6 years old.

“When I am up on top of a horse I feel free and that I can … move without the aid of crutches,” Jenkins Said. “Since I started riding I feel like I am able to accomplish so much instead of being told no.”

Jenkins’ Aunt Linda Godlewski 58, brought her niece to the center and now also takes lessons herself as therapy for multiple sclerosis. Godlewski likes how the center staff encourages independence like leaning on the horse for grooming. Since every rider and volunteer work together to achieve goals for each other. Godlewski is able to test the waters to see how much she can do without overexerting herself.

“Sitting in a wheelchair all the time and looking up at everyone, I feel underestimated,” Godlewski said.

Riding on horseback empowers her.

Horses are measured by “hands” (the end of the pinky to the tip of the thumb) and many measure 14 to 16 hands, or 56 to 64 inches. They can weigh anywhere from 840 to 1,210 pounds.

For kids and adults, being on top of this big creature is an adventure in itself. The horse brings a sense of peace to the riders’ lives. They also bring a sense of hope and knowledge that nothing is impossible.

Many equine-assisted activities enhance the physical, emotional, social, behavioral and educational skills for people with disabilities.

Horses can play a therapeutic role for many other disabilities like stroke, multiple sclerosis, autism, post traumatic stress disorder, cerebral palsy, and spina-bifida.

Make a Wish Foundation, Hospice of Michigan, and Gilda’s Club are just some organizations that work with the Equest center for therapeutic riding.

Horses are very understanding animals, in tough times they are very good listeners and to all of these people who ride for therapy they are even more helpful. Godlewski loves an Arabian proverb that seems to sum up the peace riders experience when they ride: “Heaven is the wind between a horse’s ears.”