Laura Gregg, 13, can't talk or see. She spends most of her life in a
wheelchair, but once a week she leaves the chair to sit atop a horse.
With one volunteer leading the horse and one on either side to make
sure she doesn't fall, she slowly moves around the riding ring.
is Laura's opportunity, one day a week, to feel what it is to walk
again," says her mother. Karen Gregg has been bringing her daughter
here since she was six years old and says she notices a change in Laura
after a session. "Her muscles are usually either extremely tight or
extremely loose. A child with cerebral palsy, as Laura is, can't
control this." Greg says that riding the horse helps relax Laura's
muscles that are tight and strengthens muscles that need to be
Laura is one of 85 students with special needs who
participate once a week in the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding
Program, which has been offering these classes since 1980. Riders with different challenges say they benefit
have some people who have physical disabilities such as cerebral
palsy," says Executive Director Breeana Bornhorst. "We have some
people who have cognitive or intellectual disabilities, for example,
autism, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, Down
Syndrome, any number of different challenges."
Therapeutic Riding Program is one of more than 700 such programs in the
U.S. It has been offering these classes since 1980.
Selnick, 16, has Down Syndrome. "Like most people with Down Syndrome,
he tends to have low muscle tone, says his mother, Barbara. "Riding
benefits him, because you work on your core muscles." Selnick says
Samuel's posture has definitely improved over the four years she has
been bringing him here.
There are more than 700 therapeutic
riding programs in the United States alone. Bornhorst says there is a
need for more research to quantify the benefits of therapeutic riding
that she sees every day. Parents and students are already convinced
that these sessions make a difference.
Jennifer Hendrick, 19,
suffered four massive strokes that left her paralyzed on one side.
Before taking sessions here, she went through more traditional physical
therapy. "I was stable enough to get around on my own, but this has
doubled the strengthening, doubled the work and doubled the fun."
it's that sense of fun - not just the physical improvement - that keeps
Hendrick and the others returning to the riding ring week after week to
work with their four legged therapists.