July 9 was a very special day for five riders from Reins for Life, which is a therapeutic riding program that operates out of Poplar Ridge Stables of Christian Children’s Home of Ohio (CCHO) in Wooster. The riders attended the Chagrin Valley Hunter Classic horse show in Moreland Hills at the Cleveland Metroparks polo field.
“Whether our riders realized it or not, they not only proved to their families their strength and courage it took for them to enter that ring and actually compete, but they proved to me that they trusted in me to teach them everything I know about horses and horsemanship, and let me help them to find the best way to accomplish their riding goals and therapies,” explained Sarah Rusmisel, certified Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) international instructor for CCHO.
Rusmisel explained that the riders practice weekly to biweekly and work on horsemanship skills. She said it seemed like the logical next step to get the riders involved in a show. At the Chagrin Valley Hunter Classic horse show, the kids were entered in classes of similar abilities.
Further, the students were able to practice skills learned in therapy, like rounding cones, steering their horses through a series of ground poles, two-point position over poles, removing a ring from a cone and transferring to another cone. The riders were judged and presented with a ribbon based on their placing.
“I believe the children loved the friendly competition. They were able to see other riders and horses from various programs, and I honestly feel they had such a sense of accomplishment. They all walked or rolled away with a ribbon in hand, and smiling family all around. The smiles on their faces were priceless,” said Rusmisel.
Reins for Life offers equine assisted therapy for individuals diagnosed with conditions such as autism, ADD/ADHD, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, emotional disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, stroke, speech disorders and Down syndrome. Therapeutic goals include cognitive, emotional, physical, social, educational and behavioral elements.
“We offer a safe environment where our riders feel comfortable to learn and grow. We pride ourselves on offering private sessions so that each student feels that one-on-one attention,” Rusmisel continued.
Some of the benefits of this type of therapy are improved body symmetry, improved muscle tone, enhanced head and neck control, increased balance and sensory input. According to Rusmisel, they also add games to enhance fine motor skills. Additionally, riding naturally increases oxygen input and cardiovascular efficiency.
“Often, the social interaction becomes as important as the riding lesson. Friendships are made, acceptable behaviors are reinforced and unacceptable behaviors are discouraged. A human-animal bond develops between riders and their therapy horses as riders discover that the horses are gentle, friendly, accepting and do not see disabilities,” Rusmisel said.
Rusmisel said they plan to compete in another horse show in the future. Another goal is to double their team by next year. When Rusmisel started two years ago, there were just three part-time riders. Now, there are 20 part-time and full-time riders. They have also gained a significant number of volunteers. For more information, visit www.ccho.org or email Rusmisel at email@example.com.
“Our goal is to reach out to as many individuals as we can, and prove to them the potential they always had...sometimes just getting to that potential in a different way,” Rusmisel said.
Published: July 25, 2012