Horses provide effective therapy

Ride Above Disability Therapeutic Riding Center offers people age 4 and above weekly lessons individually tailored to their needs and goals. (courtesy photo)

Horses provide effective therapy

By Ken David

Along Poway’s horse country is a stable using horsepower in a special way to help people. 

Located at Rolling Hills Boarding Stable on 15529 Sycamore Canyon Road, Ride Above Disability (RAD) Therapeutic Riding Center offers clients age 4 and above weekly lessons individually tailored to their needs and goals. 

Each rider gets a weekly lesson led by instructors certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. In addition to certified instructors, two volunteers also join each horse and rider. Some students work on verbal communication while others build the core strength needed to walk without a wheelchair or walker. 

In addition to certified instructors, two volunteers also join each horse and rider during lessons at Poway’s Ride Above Disability Therapeutic Riding Center. (courtesy photo)

RAD Executive Director Wayne Jackson noted that people who try therapeutic or adaptive riding discover many different benefits from riding a horse. To start with, he referred to studies that show it lowers blood pressure and normalizes brain chemicals. It can also help riders improve balance, core strength, motor skills and planning.

“A lot of times, just being around a horse can help people calm down and relax, and maybe start to understand some of the things that they are thinking and feeling,” Jackson said. “On top of that, when you ride a horse, the natural movement of a horse, (viewed) from the back of the horse, mimics the natural movement of a person when they walk. So, if you’re in a wheelchair and your muscles have atrophied, riding a horse, the movement of the horse, will help you help strengthen those muscles a little bit.

Riding a horse can also improve self-esteem,” he said.

“If you are a young man or woman who uses a wheelchair, or as any kid, you view the world as everything is bigger than you. All of a sudden, you’re on top of a horse and you’re looking down on everyone else,” Jackson explained. “And maybe you don’t have confidence in your ability. But then you’re on a horse and the horse starts to do what you’re asking it to do. That’s a tremendous confidence booster.” 

Jackson and his co-founders started RAD after working for years at other therapeutic riding centers. Together, they sought to deliver therapeutic riding in a different way they think increases opportunities and benefits for riders. Jackson explained that a big part of that involves not making assumptions about what people can do on a horse based on a particular diagnosis. 

“I’m very pleased and proud to say we have never turned down a rider because of age, weight or diagnosis,” Jackson said. “If someone can safely ride, we will let them ride a horse.”

RAD helps people working through various circumstances, including ADD/ADHD, traumatic brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cognitive defects, autism spectrum, amputations, cerebral palsy, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, hearing, and vision and speech impairments. Some students go on from initial lessons, expanding their riding skills to the point they can compete.

“We will take our riders as far as they can safely go. We have riders who jump. We have riders that go to open shows and contests and competitions,” Jackson said. “We wanted to make sure that if you wanted to do something with a horse, and you were physically capable of safely doing it, we would find a way to help you out.” 

While riders with special needs are the main focus, RAD also offers lessons to interested siblings and parents, giving families an activity they can share. 

A nonprofit organization, RAD relies on help to cover costs while keeping lesson prices affordable for clients. RAD is funded through grants and donations, welcomes volunteers, and even has an Amazon wish list of horse supplies and games, and activities for students. 

“I can’t overstate how important the volunteers are,” Jackson said. “We always need help from volunteers for lessons. You don’t have to have any horse experience either. We will train you.”

For more information, visit radtrc.org or call (858) 209-5662. 

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