Normally, I’d say come roll with me, but in this case come neigh with me, as we roll into Stable Hands, Inc. Equine Therapy Center, that is. Stable Hands is an equine therapy center located in Wausau. For 24 years, they’ve enriched the lives of children and adults with disabilities. They also have experience in working with a wide variety of disabilities.
Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center is a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt corporation which was formed in 1992. Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center uses equine therapy to positively impact the lives of those with physical, emotional, cognitive and social challenges. Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center is a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH International). The mission statement of Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center is “to enhance the quality of life for individuals with physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities through the use of equine-assisted activities and therapies” Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center has three paid employees and many volunteers who make this possible.
As we rolled in, Diane Abitz, the executive director and program director, met us in the parking lot. Immediately, I appreciated her warmth and friendly nature. She took us first into the main building. The main building is large and open, very accessible! The main building houses Diane’s office, the volunteer “control center”, a collection of comfy couches, lockers for the riders, organized saddles, and an accessible bathroom.
The main building is also the home to Jerry, the equicizer horse! This is a very valuable member of Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center. Jerry simulates the movement of a horse. He allows riders to practice when the weather may not permit. Additionally, those clients who are not quite ready for “the real deal” can practice and get comfortable with the movement of the horse. Jerry came to Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center via a generous donation.
Diane walked us to the stables where the horses are housed. I’ve tried to go into barns in the past, mostly at fairs, it was rarely a positive experience. They have either been completely inaccessible or flooded with people, so it was wonderful to finally see a barn that I could access! When going inside, I saw a variety of horses, though I don’t recall any of their names, there was one horse that had been there for over twenty years, he’s twenty-four year old now! I asked Diane how long horses typically live, she said they live an average of thirty years with good health, so that’s a fairly long life! We also met Leon, the smiling donkey! I think he has the same outlook on life as I do, always happy and go with the flow. We also saw miniature horses who serve as therapy horses as well. Children not quite ready to ride will groom and lead these pint-sized therapists to gain confidence and a sense of responsibility.
We also met a nice lady who boards her beautiful horse at Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center. This is one additional source of funding for Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center. It can also be beneficial for owners who board their horses, as some are used (when they qualify) as therapy horses. It is a win-win as there is a reduction in the boarding fee and the horse and owner get to take part of something magical!
We then headed to the arena to observe a therapeutic riding session. We discovered the lip at the doorway was a bit too high for my chair. Getting over it required Schwarzanegger strength from my mom! Situations like this can be challenging but I like to see it as learning experiences. Diane shared so much knowledge with us and we were able to give her quick fixes for doorways that may appear accessible but just need a bit of tweeking!
The arena at Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center is HUGE!!! In one corner, there is a platform with a lift to assist non-walkers on to the horses. There is a ramp to get onto the platform. In the opposite corner, there is a “waiting room” of sorts. This is for family members to observe the session. We went into the waiting area to watch the session with the families.
This session at Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center included three riders, 2 children and one teenager. Initially, they groomed the horses. Diane told us this was to encourage responsibility, but additionally it also encourages a bond between the rider and the horse. The riders who were physically able led their horse around the arena. Again, this builds bonding and also trust between the rider and the horse. Next the riders mounted the horses and the fun began! There are mirrors positioned to give riders feedback on their posture. We watched the therapist direct the riders and their assistants through various activities and exercises. These activities increase strength and flexibility. At the end of the session, the horses were lined up and one by one the riders dismounted. The riders were then instructed to say thank you to the horse and to their volunteers. Diane explained that this was important, as it teaches appreciation and social skills.
One thing I noticed was the smiles as the riders rode past us. As we observed, Diane told us several stories about riders who have come to Stable Hands, Inc. Equine Therapy Center. So many stories of success. The sad thing about the medical community, or should I say the insurance industry, is that hippotherapy and therapeutic riding is still viewed as experimental. Despite the proven benefits, it is still not covered by insurance companies as standard therapies are.
There is a fee for riders of $32 per session. This fee allows Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center to continue to provide this very important and life changing service. I am currently working on a blog about Christmas gift ideas for disabled children and adults. I am going to get a jump start and suggest sponsoring a loved one who would benefit from this therapy!
One thing I want to mention was the footing in the arena. Great concern was given to choosing the right footing. Sand, dust and dirt can make riding impossible for individuals with illnesses like cystic fibrosis. The footing at Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center is specially made and very expensive. I really appreciate the consideration given to details like that. There were so many other details, however, they are too numerous to mention.
One of the riders at that session was a teenager named Sam. His mom spoke with us briefly about the many benefits he has gained in his 12 years of riding. Yes, 12 years! Sam has CP, hearing loss and has developmental delays. His mom, Nicky, told us about doctor’s predictions, such as he would never walk. Sam, with the help of Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center, proved them all wrong. Additionally, Sam has shown improvements in all areas and loves his time riding. Pam did not have to tell us that, Sam’s smile already did!
After the therapeutic riding session, we returned to the main building, Diane offered me some soda and cookies. As many of you know, I’m on a gluten free diet so unfortunately, cookies are out of the question. However, this man, who I’ll admit, has a bit of a potbelly was more than happy to oblige to a soda! Oh well, you only live once I guess!
We sat and chatted about the program and its challenges. In 2008, there was a plan to build a million-dollar facility. However, the economy took a downturn and the funding was just not there. It was then decided to proceed in stages. They moved into the current location on December 29, 2011. Prior to that, they were nomads, moving from stable to stable. They now utilize this location to the fullest, boarding horses and renting out the space for various functions. They also have an annual fundraiser at Marathon Park in September.
As we headed back to the van, Diane gave me a big hug. One of my favorite aspects of writing this blog is meeting the people I meet along the way. Diane’s dedication is not only to the clients of Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center, but also the horses. The care they receive is top notch. My mom and I were so taken back by the beauty that surrounds Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center.
Once again, I would like to thank Diane for her warmness and hospitality. I really appreciate it! Please check out Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy Center website for information on therapeutic riding, volunteering and donating. If you know of someone who would benefit from this therapy, please pass on the information!
I have a guest blogger for my next post! Pam Gross is a parent of a Down Syndrome teenager who participates in hippotherapy.
Until next time, keep rollin’ and keep smilin’!
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