- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2016

LINCOLN, N.D. (AP) - When Isabella climbs on top of a horse, she’s a completely different person.

Isabella, 5, diagnosed with autism when she was 3 years old, attends preschool and occupation and speech therapy. She also takes dance classes.

She’s a bit reserved and has a tough time opening up, according to her mother Lindsay Turnbow, of Bismarck.

Turnbow has put Isabella in various classes to try to get her “out of her shell” and build social skills, which can be difficult for children on the autism spectrum, the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1VtdhPB ) reported.

But talking comes easy for Isabella when she’s on top of a horse. In fact, she couldn’t stop talking while she rode a black and white paint horse named Pop-Tart on a farm southeast of Lincoln in early May.

A huge smile spread across her face as Pop-Tart trotted ever so slowly around the outdoor arena.

Turnbow said nothing compares to pure joy on her daughter’s face when she attends her weekly horseback riding lessons offered by the nonprofit TR for Heart and Soul.

“She talks a lot more when she’s on the horse,” Turnbow said. “Each week, she seems to open up more.”

“Every ride she’s sitting up straighter,” said Katie Oakland, founder of the nonprofit which offers therapeutic horseback riding for children and adults with disabilities and special needs.

The riding lessons also help build her core muscles and she’s able to bond with the horse, Oakland said. Before each session, Isabella starts with a warm-up exercise by brushing a horse and practicing her counting.

In April, Oakland tested the therapeutic riding lessons with six participants, including four children diagnosed with autism and two children who have cerebral palsy.

A year ago, Turnbow said she started looking for an equine therapeutic riding program after reading about the benefits it had for children on the autism spectrum, but discovered such a program didn’t exist in the Bismarck-Mandan area.

A friend Turnbow met in an autism support group told her about Oakland’s new program and she quickly signed up.

“We’re so happy we found this,” Turnbow said.

Starting this month, Oakland said, she’ll start offering six-week sessions, held three days a week from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays.

During each 30-minute session, an instructor and three volunteers walk alongside the rider and the horse, trotting in a serpentine and doing walk halts.

The goal would be to eventually get the rider to ride on their own, depending on the person, of course, Oakland said.

Each rider is given a goal, one for example is reining. Oakland said Isabella’s goal was to ask Pop-Tart to “walk on.” The goal remains the same for each rider during a six-week session, she said.

Oakland said her program is certified by Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, or PATH. She has seven horses in training for therapy, with names such as Indie, Rodney, Tinker Bell, Angel Cakes and Reese.

Oakland said she’s been training the horses since November to get them ready. Four of the horses are actively being used for therapy, she said.

The nonprofit also is getting a wheelchair ramp donated this month, she said.

The program is for children age 4 and older and adults. Twenty people will be able to sign up for the first session starting this month, said Oakland, adding she’s also searching for more volunteers.


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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