published: Friday, October 12, 2012
Great strides for therapy
GREG JONES | Staff Writer
Elaine Barton knows the value of a horse. So, when an autistic child, who had a difficult time speaking and rarely interacted with others, said, "walk on" to a horse, Barton knew this was a big breakthrough.
Horses With A Mission Inc., a nonprofit organization, is going into its second season and is looking forward to more breakthroughs in Lake County.
Students, both children and adults spend a season, from October to May, at the licensed spirithorse therapeutic riding center in Groveland.
"I think God gave horses the sensibility to be sensitive to these kids," said Barton, president of Horses With A Mission Inc. "We have kids that will not talk. They will not respond. They will not do anything. We don't know what the connection is, but we know it is a dynamic connection."
The program is designed to build self-esteem, eliminate fears and inspire by providing a rider control of movement of a horse. Barton said the program is geared toward helping individuals with disabilities such as Autism, downs syndrome, cerebral palsy, spinal bifida, hearing and vision impairments.
Barton believes a 30-minute session on a horse allows a disable kid to feel like every other young person.
Horses With A Mission utilizes four horses and a pony. Helping are volunteers that include teenagers who enjoy horses, teenagers who need to complete volunteer hours for school, adults and parents of students.
Barton said when a disabled person rides a horse for a mile, it is like walking the same distance. She said riding a horse helps with balance, focus, coordination and improves attitudes. It's good exercise and builds the inter-thigh muscles.
Horseback riding can also teach the rider a skill while at the same time helping to stretch and strengthen muscle tone, Barton said.
"Most of our parents said they would rather their kids be doing this type of therapy on a horse than sitting (at home)," she said. "We have kids who don't have much facial response, but when you put them on a horse they always have a smile on their face. When a kid is on a horse, he or she is in control, and it builds up their self esteem."
Barton said the organization still has a few obstacles it needs to overcome. She said it needs $1,100 get permitting from the county. She said that permitting will make the property current with county requirements, so it wouldn't have to have to won't have to make changes to the property.
Barton said there are plans to put a concrete path on the property because some kids are on walkers and in wheel chairs. These kids now have to be carried on the property because the sand makes movement difficult.
Horses With A Mission works with several organizations in the community like Lifestream Behavioral Center, which has referred six kids to her with emotional issues such as depression.
Sharon Cruz, a 15-year-old Groveland resident, has been volunteering at Horses With A Mission for a year and has helped trained horses for the program. She said the program has helped many people by improving their attitude and giving them something to look forward to.
About 75 percent of program participants are children.
"The program has a focus toward kids, but it is good for everybody," Cruz said. "The horses, the adults, the families and everyone benefit. From volunteers' standpoint, we get to watch a kid who can't do anything on its own, but when the kid leaves at the end of the program, they can do so much.
"You can see the confidence in their eyes and see how great it feels they can go ride a horse on their own. Even if they have a wheelchair they can go ride a horse by themselves. It is like freedom to them. It is really cool to watch."