Horse riding time offers therapeutic benefits

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GREEN OAK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Josie Parker has little to no balance, and walking without a cane would find her stumbling or falling.

Parker has peripheral neuropathy, which is damage to the peripheral nervous system - the communications network that transmits information from the brain and spinal cord to the body. Her neurologist suggested that she try equine therapy and although she “had issues” with how and whether it would work, she agreed to try.

“I walked across an arena and I wasn’t touching anything,” said Parker, the director of the Ann Arbor library system. “I had left my stick leaning against the fence. Actually, I cried, to tell you the truth. …

“Within seven months of riding, I was not using the cane any longer,” she told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus ( http://bit.ly/1ivsd7V ). “The therapy is very important in helping me balance on the ground.”

The latest Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International fact sheet shows that 56,036 children and adults participated in certified equine therapy programs in 2012 and there were an additional 4,971 on program waiting lists.

Participants include individuals with autism, cerebral palsy, speech impairment, emotional, behavioral or mental health issues, muscular dystrophy, visual and hearing impairment, Down syndrome and multiple sclerosis. People affected by substance abuse or weight-control disorders also benefited from the therapy, according to the association’s fact sheet.

More than 4,000 instructors - health professionals, including social workers, physical therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, medical doctors and registered nurses - provide care for all participants.

Kimberly Cardeccia, a licensed psychologist and owner of Hidden Promise in Tyrone Township, added equine therapy to her private practice when she noticed during horse riding lessons that people were expressing their fears and emotions much more easily.

She began to see Winston Churchill’s statement - “There’s something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man,” he said - held true. She attributes equine therapy’s success, in part, to the “forgiving nature of horses.”

“They don’t judge you, and I think that helps people feel more comfortable,” Cardeccia said. “It would take me five sessions in the office to get (results) after one time with a horse.”

Cardeccia uses Tennessee walking horses named Blue and Anny at the Tuthill Farms Therapy Center for equine therapy.

Sandra Tuthill, of Tuthill Farms Therapy Center in Green Oak Township, said her mare, Anny, is a good “biofeedback tool” for Cardeccia because Anny helps the psychologist “get an idea of how a person is feeling.”

Tuthill, who has been a horseback rider for years, started the therapy arm of her family’s Tuthill Farms & Composting business after she experienced firsthand the effects riding the Tennessee walking horses gave her personally.

“When I began to have back problems in my mid-40s, someone told me if I tried a Tennessee walker, I could keep walking,” she explained. “I was skeptical. I kept thinking a horse is a horse.”

However, Tuthill changed her mind. She rode a walker and felt the horse “gliding along.” The ride did not jar her back, and she realized that if she could benefit from it, others might, too.

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