- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 21, 2017

RUSSIAVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Starry the horse has one main job: to help people.

Starry is one of two horses at the Crown Haven Center trained specifically for therapeutic riding, which is aimed at helping children with special needs and adults with addictions.

Crown Haven began therapeutic riding last year, and trainer Lindsay Fisher said the program goes beyond just exposing people to horses. Fisher helps her students create and accomplish goals while learning skills they can transfer to their daily lives.

One of Fisher’s students has trouble with math homework, and learning how to take care of Starry and complete a step-by-step riding routine helps the student break things down into increments, so large tasks are less overwhelming, Fisher said.

For some students taking care of Starry is a way to learn responsibility, and for others Starry’s calm and patient manner makes it easy to relax and become more confident.

Some students facing cognitive and developmental delays have trouble communicating with people, Fisher said. Changing facial and body cues can be confusing, but students can learn to communicate with the horse using the reins. For example, a student can indicate which direction they want Starry to go. But if someone is pulling the reins too hard, Starry might jerk her head to communicate that she doesn’t like that. After a while, the student and Starry learn to trust each other and become friends.

“One parent called it poetry in motion,” Fisher said.

For Frances Melendez of Westfield, it has given her 10-year-old daughter Gabriela, who is mildly autistic, an opportunity to experience something other than her normal Applied Behavior Analysis therapy.

“I’ve been searching, researching and looking, and this was a great opportunity to give it a try and see if she liked it,” Melendez said during a complimentary therapeutic riding session. “And by the looks of it, she’s loving it.”

Gabriela struggles with communication, an area Fisher said can be improved through riding sessions.

“It’s not that she lacks comprehension,” Melendez said. “She just has a little trouble with it, so with the comprehension comes the communication. So (the riding) will help her broaden and use her words that she’s been learning, and put it into place.”

Watching the student form a bond with Starry is one of the best parts of the job, Fisher said.

Such a bond happened with Molly Sallee, 12, whose parents Karen and Jason say she is a natural with animals.

Although Molly has some health issues and has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, she is often calm around the horses and is able to focus more.

“The hardest thing was probably . focusing, because I kept thinking I was going to fall off, but then I didn’t so I kind of got the hang of it and I felt more comfortable,” Molly said.

Learning to focus on caring for and directing Starry and other animals at the Crown Haven Center is the reason Molly’s parents are considering long-term therapeutic training lessons.

“There’s a lot that can be against her and I know she has a lot of peer pressure at school,” Karen said. “So I thought . we could get something else, another method of focus.”

Therapeutic riding can help adults as well, Fisher said. The program at Crown Haven is also available to people with addictions. These riders cannot ride Starry while using drugs, Fisher said, so there’s an added layer of accountability to stay drug-free.

“People with addictions often struggle and feel they can’t take on tasks and be successful,” Fisher said. “But when they take on this responsibility, it builds their confidence.”

Fisher and Crown Haven owner Bryce Barnes hope the program expands to help military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In order for Fisher to be a therapeutic riding trainer, she has to bring more than just her love of horses to the table. She had to go through several hours of training to understand the physical and mental needs of the children she works with.

When she first started as a therapeutic riding trainer, she offered the same lesson plans for all her students, but she quickly learned to cater her lessons to each student. Some riders work well with incentives, such as earning five minutes of free time if they complete a task, but each rider is different, Fisher stressed.

“I learn what makes each rider tick,” she said. “I don’t just tell them what to do, but sometimes they work best when they have a clear vision.”


Source: Kokomo Tribune, https://bit.ly/2kDMhgt


Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com

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