Last November while attending a Non-Profit Volunteer Fair I met the Program Manager of Naples Therapeutic Riding Center in Naples, FL where I live. Chatting about each of our Non-Profits she told me that their equine facility helps children and adults with various brain issues to have a happier life, and, sometimes to make some significant progress in their recovery. I was startled as she listed stroke, MS and TBI as just three maladies they have addressed. She cited some research data to reinforce her view.
A tour was arranged where I learned a few of the protocols at the facility, and how each ride would be conducted in a safe manner, particularly considering rider disabilities. The most obvious question I had was getting on and off the horse.
There are two assisted ways – utilization of hoisting equipment to take, for example, a rider who is wheelchair bound and hoisting the rider over the horse with volunteers to help settle the rider in the saddle. Alternatively, a rider can walk up a ramp which allows the rider to be at the saddle height so that volunteers can help the rider get their leg over the saddle. In both cases there are exceptional trained staff and wonderful experienced volunteers to assist the rider.
I learned that the horses are carefully screened and go through a rigorous training to get them used to the kind of situations which could arise with disabled riders. Some horses make the grade, others don’t and are then sent back to the stables from which they came.
I indicated that I would like to participate in the therapy, both for personal reasons, and to honestly be able to talk and blog about my experiences. The facility liked the idea. After completion of paperwork and receiving a physician approval I was evaluated to see if I could physically participate.
Getting off the horse at the end of the evaluation I sensed that this would help me. Leg muscles were triggering that had been dormant since the stroke. All set and done, I was excited, however to manage expectations, I learned that there was a significant waiting list, particularly for adults.
Patience pays off! I have now had four riding lessons on Bella and I believe I am walking better, and faster. Maybe it is my imagination. but I seem to be able to pick up a penny from the floor more easily. I should mention that simultaneously I am also going to a balance class twice a week so perhaps it is a combination that is helping. That said, recovering from my stroke I have been a fan of mixing therapies. I have often found that 1 and 1 make 3.
Stay in touch and if you have suggestions or comments we are all ears!