A local non-profit is using horses to treat people with physical, cognitive, and psychological disabilities.
For more information on Rocking Horse Ranch, click www.rhrnc.com
Animals… they’re considered lifelong companions and members of the family. The close bond between humans and their pets has healing and often therapeutic effects. So it’s no wonder that cats and dogs are used in therapy sessions to improve a person’s social, emotional and cognitive functioning. Recent research from Ohio State University found that horses can be used to help patients who have symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia. According to Science Daily.com, a group of Alzheimer’s patients visited a horse therapy center once a week for a month where they groomed, bathed, and fed the horses. The results of the study showed that the Alzheimer’s patients felt more positive and were less likely to resist care or become upset later in the day. The study suggests horse therapy could supplement more common forms of animal therapy to ease symptoms of dementia without drugs.
Linda Moran is the Executive Director at Rocking Horse Ranch, a non-profit located in Greenville that provides equine assisted therapy. While Rocking Horse Ranch doesn’t offer a dementia program yet, she says the study’s findings are convincing.
“The whole atmosphere of being at the barn, working at the barn, being around the animals encourages a calming demeanor. I don’t think it’s going to cure dementia. What I have seen in some people, especially if they had a history when they were much younger of being raised on a farm or being around horses is that some of those positive feelings can resurface.”
There are plans in the works to include a dementia program at Rocking Horse Ranch. Moran says if they start one, it will focus on bringing small groups of Alzheimer’s patients to the facility to spend time with the horses, grooming them and giving them exercise.
“By and large, these programs are not always about riding. But it’s more about having an experience in the barn, working around the horses, maybe working on leading the horses or doing a ground activity with the horses either individually, or with students as a group with a horse. You could also work on some group dynamics and interpersonal relationship.”
Moran says Rocking Horse Ranch hopes to develop a dementia therapy program within the next year. She says they are currently looking to partner with agencies or organizations that care for dementia patients.
For now, the focus of the Greenville non-profit is to provide equine assisted activities to children and adults in eastern North Carolina who have physical, cognitive and psychological disabilities. Rocking Horse Ranch was founded in 1991. But in 2003, they opened their own facility and started full-time therapeutic riding. Moran says trained volunteers and staff assist the students and teach them how to ride a horse.
“We evaluate each student and construct a lesson specifically for them based on where they’re at at the time and we can progress them along in their skills and progress them toward their goals at a pace that suits them.”
The nine horses that are a part of the therapy program are older, and have years of experience with being ridden. Moran says Rocking Horse Ranch offers private lessons to people diagnosed with a variety of disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida and developmental delays.
“We have a large number of students who have an autism spectrum diagnosis, we work with students that have down syndrome, who have visual and hearing impairments, learning disabilities, ADHD, cognitive impairments, behavioral or psychiatric disorders. We also work with students that have spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injury; we have students with multiple sclerosis.”
Riding a horse requires good posture and balance. Moran says students who have issues with motor skills or coordination as well as problems with communication or social interaction benefit from learning how to ride a horse.
“They need to have some spatial awareness because they’re moving in a ring and sometimes trying to ride patterns and loop around obstacles in the rings. It’s also a skill that requires communication obviously between the instructor and the student, between the student and the horse. And it requires appropriate behavior because the student is dealing with other people and also dealing with another animal.”
The equine therapy sessions at Rocking Horse Ranch typically last 10 to 12 weeks. Moran says most students show improvements in only two to three weeks. In addition to enhancing communication skills and building physical strength, Moran says the main goal of therapeutic riding is to help their students become more confident and independent.
“While students may start out with a leader and one or two side walkers, our goal is for the student to become more able and to gradually peel away the help that they have so that eventually they can become independent riders if that’s their goal, which it is for most of our students.”
You can learn more about Rocking Horse Ranch and the therapy services they provide. Their website is www.rhrnc.com. We’ve provided a link at our website, publicradioeast.org.