Riders Up!

Many individuals with autism have extremely limited areas of interest and have to be taught how to pursue leisure interests on their own. Thanks to a generous grant from The Jack Fanning Memorial Foundation, NSSA has been able to offer the participants in its Adult Services Program opportunities to pursue a wide variety of leisure activities, such as music, yoga, bowling, painting, cake decorating, horseback riding and more. At NSSA we believe that the quality of life for all people is enhanced by developing a variety of interests to pursue. Through the generosity of The Jack Fanning Memorial Foundation, NSSA’s Adult Services participants are enjoying new leisure activities.

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On October 25th, a group of adult participants went to New York Equestrian Center (NYEC ) in West Hempstead, NY. NYEC has a comprehensive therapeutic riding program that is specific to riders with special needs. The program has existed for several years and caters to those with physical, developmental or emotional disabilities. The program operates under PATH International guidelines which is the association that certifies riding instructors through training and education to safely and competently work with differently-abled individuals. PATH International has guidelines on therapeutic riding instruction that NYEC uses to asses both the individual as well as the most appropriate horse for them. While horses all have their own unique personalities, NYEC instructors assign specific horses for specific needs. For individuals on the autism spectrum, for example, they use a horse with a slower, smoother gait to provide less stimulation.

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Jessica Boily was there to welcome the adults to their extended riding lesson, which takes place both mounted and on the ground. Jessica is a PATH International Instructor and Director of the Therapeutic Riding Program at NYEC. The adult participants started their visit with a tour of the facilities, petting velvety noses as they walked down the stable aisles.

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They saw where the horses sleep, eat, are groomed and bathed, and where they go for outdoor turnout and exercise.

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Then the group was split into two; with some donning protective riding helmets and others picking out brushes for grooming. The riders were helped up a sturdy mounting block and onto the horse they were riding. The horses were well-behaved and stood still while their riders clambered aboard. Once mounted, riders were shown how to position their hands on the reins and their feet in the stirrups, and off they went. Each participant was accompanied by an assistant, leading the horse and staying close to offer guidance and instruction.

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Instructor Jess went back and forth, adjusting position and offering encouragement and praise. Every participant seemed perfectly at-ease with getting on and walking around the ring, even those who had never been on a horse before. One client who has been riding for several years even got to do some trotting. And the smiles! The indoor arena was positively glowing that chilly morning.

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While the first group was riding, the others were learning how to groom a horse. Each chose a different brush and were shown how to move around a horse safely, while still getting them clean all over. Everyone seemed eager to be as close to the horse as possible and Lola was patient and still even with a dozen or more hands moving over her body at the same time. Eventually the groups switched roles and new riders mounted up and others continued grooming a different horse on the cross-ties.

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Some of the more adventurous clients took turns leading a horse up and down the barn aisle, under the watchful eye of a stable employee.

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After the mounted and ground lessons were finished, everyone got a special treat (including the horses!). Each client got to take a bucket of bran mash (a warm lunch treat for the horses) to a different horse and feed them.

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The afternoon ended with hugs between NSSA clients and their new friends at New York Equestrian Center. We thank the center, all the helpful staff members, and especially Jess Boily for her experience and patience in helping our adult clients enjoy such a wonderful and memorable experience.

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We can’t wait to see where NSSA adults go next!

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