“When Marshall started Hippotherapy with Leaps & Bounds over 4 years ago, he had never been on horseback and was actually afraid of horses and other large animals. Marshall’s inner “core” was weak (as is frequently the case with children like Marshall who are on the ASD “spectrum”) and his overall lack of coordination was about 2 years behind his peers. Socially, Marshall had focus and attention deficit issues; he was often “spacey” and while he had no issue ever engaging, his attention span and ability to stay in the “conversation” was impaired. He would often have issues following multiple step issues.
A lot has changed in those 4 years. Marshall has been on the Honor Roll at his Jr. High School for the past two semesters; this is with an unmodified curriculum plan, meaning he does all the same work his peers do- homework and all. Marshall has an advanced reading and conversational style- and while he may drift into preferred areas of conversation (don’t we all) he is loved by everyone he talks with, and is never shy about engaging friends and strangers alike in a buoyant conversation. Marshall has competed in several equestrian shows (unassisted) winning many blue ribbons for Western Pleasure events. In fact, Marshall has won “double blue ribbons” in events with multiple judges; he’s a crowd pleaser and all smiles while he rides.
Why do I believe Marshall’s successes tie directly to the work of Leaps & Bounds? It’s about what happens other than what you expect from Hippotherapy/Adaptive Riding (the next step after Hippotherapy which is assisted, where Adaptive Riding is unassisted.) Everyone hears about the typical physical therapy benefits; here’s what they don’t tell you- the bonus plan:
a) Equine Mastery on any level (even assisted) enhances self-esteem and pride;
b) Equine Mastery involves an increasing and evolving need for focus and direction of thought;
c) Unassisted Equine Mastery involves multiple-step directions, which builds organized thinking;
d) Unassisted Equine Mastery requires listening and focused communication, as well as patience;
e) All manner of Equine care (which is taught at L & B) teaches caregiving and compassion;
f) Finally, Equine Mastery involves the development of Executive Functioning; the coordination of mind and body.
In coordination with other complementary therapies, “warrior parents” and a support staff of volunteers like the great folks at Leaps, Hippotherapy/Adaptive Riding is a way to capture the imagination of a young (or old) person with special needs, and turn a “preferred activity” into a way to shape the mind and body. It’s a formula- but a formula for success!
And we have seen it with Marshall- the evidence speaks for itself. Our younger son Austin, who is also challenged with ASD, graduated out of Hippotherapy and moved on to Adaptive Riding not long ago. With Leaps, we are applying that “formula” to him and seeing a previously “non-verbal” child narrating his own home videos- about his horse!
As a parent of two ASD siblings, I can understand that fear of failing to do all you can for your child. You can run circles pursuing multiple types of therapies to address one or two aspects of your child’s needs. We learned- with the help of Leaps & Bounds- that it is possible to receive a treatment which can supplant several of those individual treatments into one “holistic” therapy. On behalf of my wife, Athena and my sons, I want to thank Leaps & Bounds for really making a difference in our sons’ lives. They can help you as well. Give it a shot; it’s just “horse sense”.
Richard and Athena Bond”