Everyone wins with Special Equestrians

Published 5:32 pm Monday, February 11, 2013

Volunteers and horses work together to help people with disabilities.

By DALE BRAKHAGE/Community Columnist

Imagine getting a little exercise in the fresh air. You are around happy people and friendly animals. At the same time, you provide important therapy for people with physical, mental or emotional disabilities. Sound worthwhile?

Special Equestrians can make that happen for you.

Since 1986, this non-profit organization has provided therapeutic horseback riding programs for people with special needs. It is amazing how riding gentle horses improves the health and attitude of people.

How does it work? People riding horses experience freedom of movement. Muscles in a rider’s legs, back, abdomen and arms exercise when riding. Sitting up straight in the saddle promotes better breathing, too.

Kathleen Claybrook, executive director of Special Equestrians, describes it like taking a person out of a wheel chair and giving them good legs, not two, but four. People with autism or cognitive disabilities don’t have to talk or make eye contact as they learn to control the horse.

For someone confined to a wheelchair, the view as they ride on horseback must seem like sitting on top of the world. But no danger is involved. Trained volunteers lead the horse and help the person stay comfortable and balanced on the horse.

Special Equestrians relies on volunteers. Currently, 250 Special Equestrian volunteers help riders, care for horses, maintain riding equipment and stables, and do administrative tasks.

”We need more volunteers,” said Kathleen. “When you come here, you have a one-on-one relationship with the riders you work with. I am still friends with one rider I worked with 25 years ago.”

Jaime Laird is volunteer coordinator for Special Equestrians. She is letting everyone know that all levels of experience are needed. There is no horse experience necessary. Volunteers must be at least 14 years old.

To become a volunteer, just attend one volunteer training session. They are on Saturday, Feb. 16, from 9-11 a.m. and Thursday, Feb. 21, from 4-6 p.m. Training takes place at their facility on the campus of Indian Springs School.

To reserve your spot at a training session, or to learn more, email: volunteer@specialequest.org, call: 205-987-9462, or visit their website at Specialequest.org.

Dale Brakhage writes a weekly column about Indian Springs and its residents. You can reach him at dale@dalebrakhage.com.