Thursday, January 01, 2009

Group exercise helps disabled kids

WASHINGTON: Group exercise programs, treadmill training and horseback riding can benefit kids with developmental disabilities, according to a new review of studies.
According to research analyzed by Connie Johnson, PT, a physical therapist with the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, by doing these kinds of activities, kids with disorders such as autism, mental retardation and cerebral palsy can improve their coordination and aerobic fitness.
The researchers said that the findings are encouraging, since studies show that children with developmental disabilities tend to be less fit than their peers.
Johnson analyzed 14 studies and three other evidence reviews to determine how youth with developmental disabilities might benefit from physical activity.
The strongest evidence of benefits came from studies of group exercise, therapeutic horseback riding and treadmill workouts.
Skiing and swimming programs might also be beneficial, but the evidence from those programs was not as strong.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gentle horses work hard to help those with special needs

Times Correspondent | Tuesday, December 30, 2008 |

Strings of colored lights twinkled throughout the stable. In front of each stall, a small evergreen tree awaited decorations, and a chorus of voices sang Christmas carols to the horses housed in the stalls.

Children lined up to get designs painted on their cheeks, and guests nibbled on cookies. As strong winds blew outside, hot chocolate helped chase the wintry chill away inside the Hobart stable.

The Fifth Annual Deck the Stalls two weeks ago sponsored by Exceptional Equestrians Unlimited brought together dozens of children and adults who have a loving connection with the horses donated and specially trained to work with riders with special needs.

Currently finishing its 29th year, EEU provides educational and therapeutic riding instruction for people with special needs. Volunteers run the nonprofit charity, which depends on fund-raisers and donations from individuals, businesses and service organizations.

Some volunteers care for the horses and the stable, while others train the horses or raise money for the group.

The program began in Valparaiso in 1979 and moved to the stable at 5307B 61st Ave. in Hobart six years ago. EEU is a member of North American Riding for the Handicapped Inc. and is an affiliate agency of United Way of Porter County.

At the Christmas-themed event, Danielle Lowe of Munster greeted her favorite horse, Shade, a 20-something-year-old American Quarter Horse. Lowe, a 14-year-old Munster High School freshman with cerebral palsy, began taking horseback-riding lessons in August.

Danielle's physical therapist at St. Margaret Mercy in Dyer recommended the program.

"Her posture is better, and her leg muscles have strengthened," says Danielle's mother, Ly Lowe.

"It's been a great thing."

Monica Gutierrez also has seen major benefits from horseback riding, says her mother, Maria Gutierrez. The 7-year-old from East Chicago now is able to stretch out more because of her riding lessons.

Diagnosed with a rare metabolic disorder, Monica receives physical, occupational and speech therapy. But one of her favorite activities is horseback riding.

"She loves it," Gutierrez said of the program. "She's made big progress. She's listening more."

EEU has touched many lives during its years of operations, says Laura Rochester of Valparaiso, who serves as volunteer secretary and is on the board of directors.

Those taking lessons range in age from 4 to those in their 50s, and have a wide range of special needs, including Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism.

"We offer lessons from April through October, which cost $240 for eight weeks plus a $50 registration fee. It all goes to help take care of the horses, to lease the stable and all the utilities," Rochester says.

Mounting platforms, safety headgear and stirrups and adaptive equipment allow those with physical and mental disabilities to get on the horses and ride.

"They're taught how to ride and how to stop the horse," Rochester says.

"For those who can't speak, we teach them to tap the horse's withers. Parents are always amazed how well their children do on the horses. Their bodies are more flexible when they're moving with the horse."

In addition, riders benefit from a sense of accomplishment, Rochester says.

"We do exercises to stretch their bodies and different games," she says. "There are a lot of smiles and joys."

Only gentle, quiet horses are accepted into the EEU program, Rochester says. Most are older horses in their 20s and 30s, like Daisy, a 33-year-old Appaloosa.

However, Harley, a 9-year-old red roan-colored American Quarter Horse recently joined the herd.

"Normally we wouldn't accept a young horse, but Harley has a 'good mind.' He can get distracted, but he's gentle," Rochester says.

"Different horses do different things for each child."

The horses go through rigorous training to prepare for carrying riders with special needs and the volunteer walkers who accompany them.

"They have to be willing to have people around them," she says. Rochester says it takes a lot to keep the program going. All donations directly benefit the horses and riders.

Recent fund-raisers for EEU, including a Ride-A-Thon and chili cook-off with silent auction, netted the organization $9,500, says Rondi Wightman of Porter, president of EEU. Wal-Mart and Best Buy also each donated $1,000.

Even with declining economic times, EEU continues to provide a special service for its exceptional riders, Rochester says.

"Somehow, God always provides," she says.

FYI: To donate to Exceptional Equestrians Unlimited or for more information, or (219) 945-0726.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Do You Show Your Horse Love in The Winter?

Horseback Riding

Let us say winter is here and you're warm and cozy by the fireplace, drinking hot chocolate and reading a good book. Maybe you are enjoying some soothing music while ensconced in your favorite pajamas; all wrapped up comfortably in your soft blanket while the snow falls lightly outside.

What about your horse? Is your horse in a clean, warm stall in the barn, with fresh hay and clean water, protected from the elements? Did you remember his horse blanket? It's not as though he can waltz over to his little closet and take it out of the drawer! Your precious investment is depending on you to remember the particulars of his care.
A cold horse in winter is a pitiful thing indeed. If you decide to buy a horse, even if it is just for the sake of saying you own one, please take the time to provide proper care and housing, medical attention, and the right equipment. Part of that equipment and proper care involves the horse blanket.

A horse blanket is particularly needed in the cold, hard elements of the winter season. The horse has no way of actually saying, "Hey, could you hand me that blanket, please?" It is a living, breathing creation and is counting on the master of the estate to give it what it needs to survive.

The horse blankets need not be elaborate, expensive pieces of valuable art. They simply need to be functional for the animal. The function here is to hold in the animal's body heat in the winter. Of course, they are also used as cushioning underneath the saddles among other things. Which, by the way, is also needed in the winter and the blanket helps the horse stay warmer while being ridden outside.

Miniature horses have their own furry horse blankets in the winter. Even though all horses have thicker hair in the winter, the minis look woolly! They sometimes enjoy running in the snow just for fun! One type of miniature horse is the Falabella, which are said to be survivors of the Ice Age. They must have been an extremely tough breed of animal to survive the harsh winters from that period of time.

Maybe you are wondering if the horses of the Ice Age needed blankets. While I'm sure plenty survived without them, horses being gentled and tamed by mankind have also been bred somewhat spoiled or weakened, if you will. I suppose you could compare it to a dog that has been kept inside with the central heat since a pup. If you put the dog outside in the yard in the harsh winter, it will struggle against the cold. Besides, just because a horse survived the Ice Age doesn't mean he should be forced to endure the winter without a horse blanket now. Humans survived living in caves with no electricity or modern amenities, but now we've spoiled and pampered ourselves and most would have a hard time surviving harsh conditions of nature. So, care for your horse with the love and tenderness that is deserved.

Article Written By J. Foley