Gazelle Advertiser, Rhincbcek, N.Y., Thursday. August Zti. 2004
orses: Three groups come
By Alice Hunt Staff Reporter
"Walk faster!" Chris told his horse Sam, as the pair trotted around the barn at Southlands Farm in Rhinebeck. Across the way, Kyle straightens up in the saddle.
The two teenagers, both students at Anderson School for people with autism and other developmental disorders in Hyde Park, participated in a five-week pilot therapy program that united the school, Southlands Farm, and the occupational therapy firm The Horse Connection.
Six students participated in all, each coming in once a week to the stables to walk next to the horses, brush them, and even ride them.
"The things that happened during these sessions are subtle, but profound," she said," said Nancy King, an occupational therapist and consultant for the Anderson School.
King founded The Horse Connection, an equine therapy organization about a year ago. She and her team practiced "hippo therapy" with the Anderson School students.
"You use the horse's movement to facilitate sensory organization and motor movement," she explained. King said the horse's gait is similar to the movements of walking humans, and that as the students fall into step with the horse. their own coordination is enhanced.
In these sessions, a set of physical goals and emotional/ behavioral goals were outlined for each student, for example, coordination improvement and increased attention span. The information was recorded on a data sheet to monitor the students' progress during the five weeks.
"It's very rewarding for me to sec how responsive the students become," King said. And not all of the changes were clinical.
Several of those helping with the sessions talked about a particular girl who was afraid of the horses at first.
"Then she took Nancy's arm. put it around herself and made a motion like she wanted to get up on the horse," said Colleen Cruikshank, executive director of Southlands, She said that having the Anderson School students at the stables was very moving for her. "I cry every time I go out there."
King said that a part of what makes this kind of Uicrapy unique is simply having the animal present as a third parry.
"What you find is that the horses become co-therapists," King said. She explained that while the humans will take notes about and monitor the students, the horses are less critical.
They don't hold grudges; they don't judge," King said. "All the horses in the program seem very comfortable in their rules."
The students are more "uninhibited" around the animals and therapist than they would be around the therapist alone, according to King.
Cruikshank said that King had worked carefully to select the five horses used in the program, to make sure that they were up to working with the students,
"Missy (one of the horses) seems to enjoy it," Cruikshank said, and as for Sam, "He's not ready to retire yet. They [the horses] like to have jobs."
King approached Southlands when she was looking for a home for me program, just as Southlands was looking to find someone to run a program for thcin.
"They jumped right on it," King said of when she asked Southlands to participate in the
RIDING TALL IN THE SADDLE:(Above) Anderson School student Chris woits patiently os he prepares to ride Sam as a part of a therapy pro­gram held at Southlands farm. (Photo by Alice Hunt).
WATCH OUT, JOHN WAYNEI (Below,leftt) Chris has a look of sheer joy on his face as he and his horse Sam go for a run at Southlands Farm. (Photo by Alice Hunt)
A BOY AND HIS HORSE. (Abovejeft) Kyle, center, student at the Ander­son School, smiles as he pets Missy, one of Southlands Farm's horses. Therapy instructors used the horse os a part of a pilot program. (Photo Alice Hunt)
'The things that happened during these sessions are subtle, but profound.'
program. She said that her philosophy of education and that of the stable were "closely related," making it easier to incorporate die program.
"They have been so open and welcoming to our students," Nancy Osborn, education coordinator for Anderson School said. She explained that this program is a part of the school's effort to incorporate a "more therapeutic approach with education." She hopes, since the pilot program appears to have
Nancy King occupational therapist
been successful, the program may expand to include more students for a longer period of time.
Having the students on the farm has been a learning experience for both the staff and the other riders, Cruikshank said. One of the younger riders even wanted to help, so she prepared the horses by putting their saddles on before the Anderson School students arrived.
"All you have to do is see these (children), and it's amazing," Cruikshank said.