Small Steps and Giant Leaps, a business offering equine-assisted activities and therapy, opened in 2016 with their its first rider starting in March.
Shannon Wetherington, who owns and operates the business at 1203 Redkey Road, Winchester, about 14 miles south of Hillsboro, is a certified riding instructor through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemen (PATH).
The association’s mission statement is “Providing opportunities for individuals with special needs to develop their potential through equine assisted activities.”
The program uses mounted and unmounted sessions. Techniques can include using games, obstacle courses, colors and shapes, and much more. Offering different types of activities and therapy brings people outdoors. It provides an opportunity to use all your senses while learning and processing challenges. Sensory input is developed by circular up and down motions and spacial awareness. Horses can mirror the rider’s behavior.
Wetherington shared a story about an individual coming to a riding session and being in a bad mood. The individual wouldn’t admit that anything was wrong, but the horse kept yawning, which relieves stress. Wetherington told the individual that she knew something was wrong because of the horses behavior. Finally, the individual stated that she had lost something and was upset about it.
Equestrian therapy is a form of therapy to help emotional growth in individuals with disabilities. The use of the horse helps facilitate activities and interaction.
Equestrian therapy can help those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disdorder (ADHD), anxiety, autism, dementia, delay in mental development, down syndrome, types of depression, trauma and brain injuries, and behavior and abuse issues. Therapy can start with an individual at the age of 2, as long as they can hold their head up and sit up well.
Equestrian therapy was first used in the United States and Canada in 1960, when the Community Association of Riding of the Disabled (ARD) was organized. In 1969, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) was organized. The association is responsible for providing safety guidelines and training for instructors and approving therapeutic riding centers before they operate.
Equine therapy combines occupational and physical therapy. It helps individuals build a sense of self-worth, improve communication, build trust and self-efficiency, develop socialization skills and decreases isolation. It also helps learn impulse control, emotional management and limits or boundaries.
When Wetherington brings in new students, they develop goals together and then a program is developed for that individual. Lessons are provided for an hour at $25 a lesson.
Some information for this story came from equestriantherapy.com.
Jackie Wolgamott is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.