Students traveling from Caledonia Elementary School in East Cleveland to rural
Geauga County expressed wonder as the scenery transitioned from city blocks
thick with buildings to wide expanses of open fields and trees.
Though the trip itself supplied a treat for the first, second and third graders, more excitement ensued upon reaching Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center in Bainbridge Township, where a morning of riding horses awaited.
Their teacher, Catherine Brown, who has been bringing special education classes to the center for the last four years, said the outing was an "unbelievable" experience for the group.
"One of the reasons I continue with this program, besides having the love of horses myself, is to give the kids the chance to ride. The experience helps them with socialization ... and becoming more sensitive to one another."
Fieldstone Farm hosts equine programs designed to meet the educational, behavioral, social and physical goals of children and adults.
Established in 1978, it's one of the largest of 800 such facilities across the U.S. and among 20 percent which have earned national accreditation through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
"For children and adults with disabilities the equestrian experience is life-changing," according to information from Fieldstone Farm. "No other therapeutic recreational opportunity benefits so many aspects of a disability in such a holistic way."
Among those served at the center are very young children referred by pediatricians, older adults from assisted living programs, teens in drug treatment programs, accident victims, veterans and school-aged children.
Program director Teresa Morris said "the beauty of being around horses is that horses give you what you need ...to be strong, better coordinated, feel connected to nature and develop responsibility."
A specific benefit cited by the director is that of improving walking for those with physical disabilities. Riding strengthens core muscles and balance.
Shifting weight and holding reins while riding enhances fine and gross motor skills used for writing.
The benefit Caledonia third grader Nameer Sbemrs talked about while atop his black horse, Cheyenne, was a bit simpler.
"It's really fun!" he said as he punctuated his comment with a sizable smile.
Bryanna Mongo, also a third grader, said she liked that her horse was "nice" and that it minded when she prompted it to stop.
"Success is not part of (the childrens') typical routine," Morris said. "They come from routines where they have to be hypervigilant and they're very careful about taking risks."
Student-teacher Cassandra Cash-Garrett viewed the horses, riders and volunteers parading around the indoor arena, and she said she's witnessed the positive effects of the outings.
"They love riding," she said. "They establish great bonds with the horses and remember their names. And when the volunteers ask them questions it enhances their learning experience."
Morris noted that some autistic children who are prone to being non-verbal say their first words while riding horses.
"One of the first things they're (instructed) to do when they get on a horse is to say hello to the horse and volunteer," she said. "And they all want to say hi."
She added that throughout history horses have provided services to mankind, but a deeper bond between the two is just now being discovered.
Fieldstone Farm also offers a variety of summer camps open to those of all abilities. Camp themes include Horse Play, Down on the Farm, Picasso's Ponies, Driving Me Crazy and Show Time.
For more information on Fieldstone Farm, visit www.fieldstonefarmtrc.com.
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