Haven Horse Ranch

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In this program, we teach riding but our principal goal is therapy, not recreation. With the assistance of their instructor, lessons start with the rider learning to lead the pony or horse. The rider then assists with grooming (i.e. brushing) to the ability they have and can develop. They carry their own saddle or blanket or girth, depending upon their ability at that time, and help saddle their pony or horse. We have found that this participation becomes a very important part of the lesson to our riders. Those with cognitive disabilities learn sequencing, two step task execution, following instructions, and work-reward. They also develop a stronger bond with their pony or horse. This develops empathy which is extremely important with our riders diagnosed with autism. Many of our riders look forward to this element as much as they do their riding lesson. The leading, grooming, and saddling portion of the lesson usually lasts approximately 15 minutes.

For our younger riders, at least one of the parents is required to be a side walker for their child. We require this because we believe parents are the world's expert on their child. They assist the rider up the ramp and with the horse or pony, where over time we work to have the rider become self-sufficient with the horse or pony. This provides a greater sense of control and pride in being able to do most of the mount on their own. According to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Study, the incorporation of the parent in the lesson is the main ingredient for the transfer of the intervention at Haven Horse Ranch to the home environment.

The ridden portion of the lesson starts in our corral, lead by the instructor and protected by one or two side walkers, depending upon their needs. As the lesson progresses and the child begins developing balance, we provide exercises and riding development in a very small ring, in which the pony or horse is controlled by the instructor using a rope called a lunge line. Over time when the rider develops sufficient balance, we begin to have the side walker step aside in the ring so that the rider will develop stronger balance, and with this development, safe riding skills.

With safety methods paramount, we proceed in methods and tested steps to develop the rider's balance and horsemanship skills. It is our goal to eventually have each of our riders be independent, under controlled conditions.

The ridden portion of the lesson is designed to last 30 minutes, with shorter times for our smallest and beginning riders, and longer times for our more advanced riders. Following the ridden portion, the rider leads the horse or pony to the barn and assists in unsaddling, grooming, rewarding the pony with a carrot (this is a favorite part) and putting away the pony.

Why Choose Therapeutic Riding?

The movement of the horse or pony stimulates the rider's vestibular system (inner ear) which not only controls balance, but all voluntary movement of the body, including speech. Half way through the lesson, our students who have an under-stimulated vestibular system (one form of sensory integration dysfunction) become more active vocally and in body movement. Riders also learn vital skills such as: following instructions, focusing, task sequence, participation and self-confidence.


If you would like to make a donation to our therapy program, please click here.

It’s about so much more than riding a horse!