These schools are involved in the Equine Assisted Activity and Therapy program (EAAT) at Horsepower Farm, which is funded by Huntingdon County PRIDE, an organization that has many programs for those with special needs.
Pletcher is a local rider who has ridden with the Texas Trick Riders and Tommie Turvey in Florida. She is close friends with Pam Hayes-Houldin, director of Horsepower Farm, and has agreed to showcase different horse activities and riding styles to the students in EAAT. This will be her third year of performing at the farm.
The program is designed for students with special needs, and the overall benefits involve cognitive, emotional, social and physical aspects, said Hayes-Houldin. Activities include not only horse riding, but stable cleaning and general horse care as well.
“In regards to physical benefits, riding uses a lot of muscles and can strengthen those muscles as well as increase balance. The motion of a horse’s walk is nearly identical to a human’s, so when you’re riding a horse, your hips move nearly the same way as if you were walking,” said Hayes- Houldin. “It therefore benefits kids who have physical issues where they can’t use their pelvis in a normal way.”
Christy Webb, a HorsepowerFarm participant, has especially benefitted from the program in this regard.
“I’ve been riding since I was 8 years old, but I was diagnosed with cancer in February 2011 when I was 15, and had to have an amputation performed on my leg. They helped me get back into shape to keep pursuing horse riding,” she said. “I’ve been riding with them for a year and a half. When I started, I wasn’t able to get on the horse very well, but now I am riding on my own and the experience has helped me improve my walking as well.”
The cognitive, emotional and social benefits integrate with one another on several points. Many of the kids live in foster homes and look forward to their time on the farm, which aids in positive interaction with each other as well as with animals.
“We try to incorporate some of the things they’re working on in the classroom, such as spelling, colors and names. There are a number of colorcoded systems in place that teach the kids how to take charge and learn how to care for and ride horses with fewer instruction as they learn. Many teachers have reported that their grades noticeably improve after their involvement with the program,” said Hayes- Houldin.
The horses that the kids work with are properly trained and hand picked by Hayes- Houldin, who has been around horses her whole life.
“If someone wants to donate a horse to us, I have a number of questions that I typically ask to see if they qualify. Usually I can tell if the horse has had the kind of training that I need. Show horses are usually perfect as they are used to the ring and the kind of riding we do here,” said Hayes-Houldin. “I usually wouldn’t use a barrel horse, one used for high-speed racing or obstacles, as that’s not something that we need.”
The horses themselves are well cared for, she explained. They have a huge pasture they are set free in at the end of the day and, in the morning, they are brought back to the stables. Each horse is only used once a day for riding, and horses are retired entirely once they’ve aged to avoid over use.
The trick riding event will take place at noon Friday. Questions may be directed to Hayes-Houldin at email@example.com.