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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

Saddle Up for Health and Happiness: at Greystone Manor Therapeutic Riding Center

Jul 29, 2013 07:46AM ● By Linda Leiden and Lauressa Nelson

Greystone Manor Therapeutic Riding Center, in Lancaster, is a nonprofit that has been providing quality equine-assisted activities for children and adults with physical, social, intellectual and emotional disabilities since 1981. The facility comprises an indoor and outdoor arena, as well as acres of tree-lined paths and pasture.

Incorporating horses therapeutically helps program participants achieve their physical, psychological, cognitive, behavioral and communication goals. The horse/student bond brings social and emotional benefits, as well as the opportunity for student to excel at a unique activity that is comparable to the athleticism, musicianship or scholarship of their friends and family members. Participants look forward to each class, while caregivers appreciate the opportunity to share their parallel circumstances with each other.

From its humble beginnings as a 4-H Club, Greystone has grown to serve more than 50 students each week. The center’s standards of excellence in the areas of administration, facility, staff, equine, safety and programming are guided by its affiliation with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) and the Pennsylvania Council on Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATCH).

The Instructors

All lessons are taught by riding instructors trained and certified by either PATH or PATCH in therapeutic riding, which can be a two-to-three-year process. Instructors are taught and tested on the topics of horsemanship, facility management and safety, as well as how to direct volunteers and teach students with disabilities. The latter includes learning adaptive tack—how to adjust or modify the equipment used to mount and ride the horse to accommodate special needs. In addition, instructors study what type of learning can take place on the ground during unmounted lessons.

The Student Experience

The riding team comprises not just the participant, instructor and horse, but also includes trained volunteers. Side walkers, or side aides, are volunteers that walk on each side of a mounted horse to ensure the rider’s balance and safety. A horse leader is a volunteer with horse handling experience that guides the horse’s movement during the riding session. In addition, volunteers are vital to every aspect of the organization, including fundraising, public outreach, facility management and horse care.

Greystone integrates equine activities as opportunities for therapy, sport, education and recreation and leisure. Lessons are semi-private, private or group, and sessions of six weekly 45-minute classes are ongoing between February and December.

Therapy and Sport

Greystone’s riding instructors are technically not therapists, but are certified to guide participants with a variety of disabilities to achieve the therapeutic effects of horseback riding. New learners work through a progression of skills designed by a certified instructor and incorporating goals created by the student’s family, educators and therapists.

Physically, sitting on a walking horse in a relaxed, centered and tall position engages nearly every muscle in the body. The horse’s walk moves the rider’s body gently and rhythmically, simulating a human gait without requiring weight bearing. Thus, horseback riding can improve balance, muscle strength and coordination, as well as flexibility and range of motion.

Psychologically and emotionally, the animal/human bond is strong and can assist participants in forming interpersonal relationships. Pupils participate in ways other than riding, such as learning how their personal mood and energy affects their equine partner and how to read a horse’s level of relaxation. While therapeutic horses are chosen and trained specially to handle this type of work, they naturally seek herd leadership. Students discover their ability to be the leader for the lesson horse. On the level of human interaction, the plentiful opportunities to form friendships with fellow participants, staff and volunteers build social skills among students.

Education and Recreation

Through hands-on activities, students grow to understand horse behavior, handling, grooming, tacking (equipping a horse with saddle and bridle), touch or pressure sensitivity, herd needs, diet, anatomy and care. Consequently, a unique relationship develops between horse and rider that facilitates and motivates the student to learn from the horse. A variety of cognitive exercises are then tailored to student’s lessons including pattern work, memory challenges and communication games.

Many students participate in horse-related activities in an atmosphere of support, structure and socialization for the primary purpose of the intrinsic enjoyment of the activity. Horseback riding can be a relaxing and fun experience that improves a student’s overall quality of life.

Location: east of Lancaster. For more information, call 717-615-9222, email [email protected] or visit GreystoneManorTRC.org.

Linda Leiden completed her PATH registered instructor certification in 2012 and has been an active volunteer and staff member at Greystone since 2010. She lives in Lancaster.

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