Equine therapy offers tangible benefits

By Dory Chamas

On horseback, Fernando becomes taller — in more ways than one.

horse 2I have started taking students to equine therapy because I believe it is really valuable for students who have disabilities. The class has been visiting Arizona Horseriding Adventures™ in Waddell over the past couple of months.

During each visit the instructor and ranch owner, Anita Norton, works in one-on-one sessions with three students. Before they begin, each student must be wearing his or her name badge. The students literally start from the horse 3ground up — first working on getting to know the horse by brushing it, feeding it and cleaning its hooves. They also get to play with the horse and get to know him or her. Once Anita believes a student is ready, it’s time to ride.

One of the activities our students do from horseback is a ring toss, where the student on the horse throws a ring to try to land it on a post, and the students on the ground retrieve the ring. Fernando really responded. Nate, while riding his horse, started to verbalize.

horse 4“Every nonverbal child that I’ve ever had here has started speaking after working with the horses,” Ms. Norton told me. “It’s one word at a time, but they keep building on it until they become Chatty Cathys.

“He has it; it’s inside,” she said of Nate after a recent session. “He know the words. It’s being encouraged, being asked, being expected. You will notice as we’re going that I am asking, I am encouraging and I’m expecting.”

As his teacher, I truly feel that Nate will start saying words soon. This is not just a hobby or activity; it’s much more than that. It’s so beneficial for my students, and I’m so grateful we have this learning opportunity.

Dory Chamas, who earned her master’s degree in special education from Arizona State University, teaches our high-school classroom at Gompers Private School.