Equestrian program welcomes volunteers

CRIDERSVILLE — At the Equestrian Therapy Program at Fassett Farm, a child with autism can learn confidence and a woman with multiple sclerosis can regain her ability to walk, and volunteers drive the farm’s ability to serve riders in a more than 10-county radius.

The Equestrian Therapy Program, located at Fassett farm northwest of Cridersville, welcomed a new group of volunteers Saturday morning, training them on how to help riders achieve the best experience they can. Equestrian Therapy Program Volunteer and Program Coordinator Sarah Potts said volunteers are essential to the success of the program.

“We have about 230 volunteers who cycle through the program a year,” Potts said. “It takes about 10 to 15 volunteers to have a class for riders. This program does not work without volunteers.”

Most classes offered in the Equestrian Therapy Program have five riders, and two to three volunteers work individually with the rider in addition to the class instructor.

“The instructors have specialized training on disabilities and safety,” Potts said.

In addition to the group classes, the program also offers one-on-one classes, also operated by volunteers.

“Hippotherapy, which is a one-on-one therapy session with the rider, uses the movement of the horse,” Potts said.

A horse’s movements, she said, provide numerous benefits for the riders.

“There’s a lot of movement taking place,” Potts said. “The horse is providing a 3-dimensional movement and is stimulating the rider’s muscles as if they are moving themselves.”

When a horse walks, she said it produces more than 100 different movements, stimulating the rider’s muscles and mimicking walking, even if riders cannot walk on their own.

In classes, volunteers and instructors encourage the rider to “sit tall.”

“Sitting tall lengthens the spine and strengthens your back muscles to hold you,” Potts said. “The taller you sit, the more rotation you get in your hips. … We’re stimulating all those muscles.”

In addition to the physical benefits they receive through the Equestrian Therapy Program, riders also learn self-confidence and communications skills. She said riders must tell the horse to “walk on” or “whoa.”

“We have that communication, whether it is saying ‘walk on’ or singing ‘walk on,’ ” Potts said, noting the children in the program learn the benefits of communication through telling their horse to “walk on” or “whoa” and seeing the horse start or stop. “The whole progression of riding has a therapeutic benefit.”

Volunteers in Saturday’s training program learned their way around Fassett Farm and learned how to ensure the safety of the rider throughout the class. At the end of the session, volunteers were able to sign up for classes that fit into their schedules.