Matthew Vawter, who has Down syndrome, takes a turn on Wind Charm at Blue Mountain Therapeutic Riding, accompanied by volunteers Lynn Woolson, left, and Margie Lynch.
Photo by Donna Lasater.
TOUCHET — Sometimes fun provides the best learning experience. And fun with gentle horses might be just the thing for children and adults with disabilities.
Mary and Ron Murphy run Blue Mountain Therapeutic Riding. The business opened June 18, and just completed classes in its first riding session. The operation has been well-received and the couple is very pleased with the results.
Blue Mountain Therapeutic Riding is located at 1280 Lowden-Gardena Road.
The next class session begins this week, but students can join at any time. For more information call 509-540-6244 or click here.
For the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, click here.
For Strides for Success, click here.
They have three horses of their own; two are therapy horses. “We use the horses to facilitate riding lessons for people with disabilities. Right now we have kids, but we’re open to adults, too,” Mary Murphy said. “We have had one doctor referral for therapeutic riding.”
“Therapeutic riding is basically riding on the horse, doing activities like playing games. It builds confidence, muscle tone and a sense of control for the rider,” she said. “It helps with speech because they give verbal commands. They can play ball. Tell them ‘whoa’ by the bucket so they can throw the ball into the bucket. That helps with dexterity and speech.”
The couple is not trained in counseling or physical, occupational or speech therapy, but they are both certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship as instructors-in-training. They will become fully certified instructors in October, after completing their final course. The center is certified as well, adhering to safety and horse care standards.
“I’ve been a horse nut all my life,” she said. “We both love horses and kids.”
The progression toward therapeutic riding was a natural one. “A gal that my husband worked with suggested we start a therapeutic riding business. We decided to take the step and see what happens. Then just take the next step,” she said.
Soon they were volunteering with Strides for Success in Mesa, north of Pasco. One requirement of the certification process is spending 25 hours volunteering with a mentor.
“We discovered we loved it,” she said. “It’s something the area really needed. It’s fun, and it’s something that’s a fun activity for those who may not have opportunities for fun. There’s a special connection between horses and kids. There’s time to brush them and be face to face.” That quiet time for closeness helps everyone — students and horses.
“We like to have group classes with kids of a similar age and cognitive abilities. If there’s a pair, there’s more fun to have. They may already know each other, they may be in the same special-ed class,” Murphy said.
The students gain a great deal from the experience. “Riding requires some core strength and balance. Depending on what your needs are, if it’s autism or ADHD, it helps them focus, helps speech by saying ‘walk on’ or ‘whoa,’” Murphy said. “The horses we use for therapy are older — been there, done that. But that still have a twinkle in their eye and enjoy life.”
A volunteer walks on either side of the horse to keep the child safe while the horse is led by another. Wind Charm and Stormy are the therapy horses, gentle and calm.
“They will let someone lead them, not all horses will do that, and have someone on each side of them. They also have multiple riders each week, some horses don’t like that. They are prey animals; they are not like people and dogs, motivated by food. They are motivated by safety, comfort and play,” she said.
Horses are natural healers, she said. “They totally live in the moment,” she said. “They are not planning what they’re going to eat for lunch the next day.” They give the child their undivided attention and love.
Karlene Ponti is the U-B specialty publications writer. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.