“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” -Winston Churchill
Willow Farm Therapeutic Riding (WFTR) was established in 2000 and is based in Marquette, MI at Willow Farm Boarding Stable. The first year started with a very small pilot group of 10 students from Bay Cliff Health Camp in Big Bay, MI. Since then the program has grown to serve as many as 125 students in a season.
Willow Farm Therapeutic Riding serves as a center for continual development, implementation and evaluation of a therapeutic riding program for children and young adults between the ages of 4 and 26, all of whom have a physician diagnosed disability. The format of the program is built around PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) guidelines of: (1) Therapy, (2) Education, (3) Sports and (4) Leisure and Recreation, with additional emphasis on developing assets in responsibility, moral judgment, leadership and self-confidence. A collaborative team approach of therapists, physicians, family and equine specialists determine goals and objectives for each student to provide the most appropriate, safe, services possible.
To best serve our population with a safe environment that is beneficial to the riders while they have a great time. We work very hard to have group involvement between parents, student, riding instructor, and therapist. We feel this is the best way to make sure our students are getting the best outcome from their time at the farm. The students are in a social environment while working on their individual needs. We want to offer a relationship with a horse that will hopefully extend past the arena and be helpful in everyday life.
Therapeutic Riding began in Europe and has been using horses to support people with disabilities in growth and improvements cognitively, physically, emotionally and socially since the 1950’s.
Since therapeutic riding’s development, there have been many discoveries about the ways that horses can aid an individual. Students can address confidence and fear, responsibility, communication, trust, honesty, accountability, self-respect and respect for others, as well as anger management. Therapeutic riding has shown that a person does not have to be in the traditional therapy setting in order to address these challenges.
The initial encounter with a horse can make a student very nervous. When the rider mounts the horse they have to manage that fear and have trust in the volunteers who are there to help them. We have had many students who are unable to go through life without aid of some sort. In a program like ours, they build self-esteem and self-confidence while learning how to ride. The horse becomes their aid but in a way that is a partnership. They are also able to set and hopefully meet goals, learn problem-solving skills, work on the ability to focus and stay on task. The students are able to work on all of these elements while the horse is doing most of the work instead of a therapist.
Below are some examples of the benefits that horse related activities could offer:
- Gradual stretch of spastic or tight muscles
- Increase range of motion of joints
- Sensory integration
- Improved appetite and digestion
- Improved respiratory and circulation
- Improvement of abnormal movement patterns
- Increased speech and language abilities
- Improved self confidence
- Learning patience
- Emotional control and self-regulation
- Improved focus
Social/ Educational Benefits
- Building friendships
- Hand-eye coordination
- Patterning and motor planning
This year’s schedule is slightly different from last year. We are taking off part of August because we find that people are just too busy in that month. Please remember that the classes fill first come, first serve. We look forward to seeing you this riding season!
Being a volunteer in our program not only makes it possible for our students to ride, but we have heard over and over from our volunteers how much they enjoy their time with the program. Join us to see the great smiles that our riders have while being with ‘their’ horse and let those smiles spread to you.