#Fun4thedisabled talks with Mary Illing, the director at Walk On Farms, about the farm’s mission to provide equine experiences to those with disabilities, and how these experiences can change a person’s life.

[Video begins with lighthearted acoustic guitar music. Fun4thedisabled logo is shown. On screen text reads: For more information and a full transcript of this video, check out Fun4theDisabled.com. Mary Illing (BS, OTR/L) is now on screen. She is the President and Program Director for Walk On Equine Assisted Activities.]

I am a big believer that people are…when you put a limitation on a person, when you don’t believe that they can do everything that they can do, that you limit their lives. So if you look at someone and say, there is no way this child, who at four, utilizes crutches and has no real feeling below the waist, he will never ride independently and on top of that, she will never walk, trot, canter or jump. And I know for a fact that she does.

[On screen text: Incorporated in 2005, horses stepped foot on the property in October of 2006, with the first lessons in February of 2007. Starting with only thirteen riders, Walk On has 55 riders a week with additional carriage riders, meet and greets, and facilitated learning throughout the year.]

Walk On is a nonprofit organization, and we provide equine experiences to people with disabilities that are a wide variety. About 90% of what we do is therapeutic riding, which is a lesson specially designed for each rider. We do therapeutic carriage drivings so if you can’t ride the horse for reasons of, maybe a seizure disorder, or sensory wise the horse is too much, or you exceed our weight limit, we work with carriage driving. And then we do equine facilitated learning, and the other thing we do is a meet and greet. We bring the horses out and they groom them, sometimes they lead and then they feed a treat. And sometimes it’s just nice to be out in this beautiful area, with nature and enjoy a horse.

[On screen text: “Walk On provides equine-assisted activities to both children and adults with physical, cognitive, social, and emotional disabilities. Walk On is organized for the charitable and educational purposes to inspire people to advance to their highest potential” -Walk On Farm’s Mission Statement]

Therapeutic riding is effective for so many reasons. So first, as an occupational therapist, the movement of the horse. When I put a rider on the horse and position their pelvis correctly, I can elicit almost the exact same motion as walking. The horse is moving you in the same planes and rotations that you would move in walking. And they’re moving forward, so your brain is getting all of those inputs. But your eyes are also seeing forward movement. So all of these things work, so for riders, particularly children but someone who had a stroke or someone, you’re getting as close to “normal” movement to walk as you can get. It can strengthen the trunk, and it can strengthen the shoulders. And all of that leads to really good trunk control, or better trunk control. So with trunk control you get improved speech, because you need to have your diaphragm strong enough to push air for you to be able to speak. It’s also a lateral– you need a lot of coordination to not just sit on the horse, but to guide the horse. Just weaving through cones and making the circles, meaning that they’re putting both sides of their bodies together, you’re feeding input into the brain. For equine-facilitated learning, and also for people with depression and anxiety, to get a connection, to get something working and to get things moving, and to be successful, is really empowering.

[On screen text: Walk On’s program takes place at a specially designed facility, with individualized programs for each student, designed by the program director, a PATH Master Level Instructor and Occupational Therapist.]

Primarily, our clientele is probably 50%, um, having some kind of autism. And then we work with adults with head injury, spinal cord injury, people who have had strokes, we work with children with cerebral palsy, we work with a lot of ADHD, attention deficit. In the last few years, we’ve been seeing a lot of anxiety and depression, people who live with anxiety and depression.

[On screen text: Walk On accepts riders as young as three and as mature as ninety-three years old.]

We do an OT evaluation initially, where we talk to both…you know if you’re a child, up to about ten or twelve, we talk to your parents. If you’re a child of twelve or older, somewhere in there, and can communicate with us, then you get to be part of the discussion about what is it we want from riding. Do we want balance? Do we want strength? Do we want to ride independently, do I want to learn to canter? And then we figure out a plan to try to get there. And those are the things we build on, what’s fun for them, what’s a challenge that they can accomplish? And we build on those. The goal for me is that all of my riders and drivers outgrow me and end up at a regular– in a barn that doesn’t have the support here. Maybe they own their own horse, I have several that have gone on to own horses. That’s my goal.

[On screen text: The therapeutic riding program operates year-round, six days a week, organized on a seasonal session schedule. Each session lasts between eight and fourteen weeks depending upon the time of the year.]

It’s an amazing thing, and if it’s as simple as, someone has a good time today, and laughs and has some fun, that’s as great to someone who talks here for the first time. Or someone who, like I said, the doctor said they would never walk and they walk. Or someone who rides a horse independently that you never thought they would.

[On screen text: For more information on how to become a rider at Walk On Farm, go to www.walkonfarm.org. Walk On operates primarily through the generosity of donations and volunteers. Please go to walkonfarm.org for more information on those opportunities as well.]

We had a boy who has autism and he always had help and he always had people, but he slowly started to look like he could do it, and one day we could unhook him. He guided that horse through a whole pattern, did everything, and we, you know, Mom was crying, we were all ecstatic because what a triumph. And then the next week, the mom said, “You don’t understand, that day when he was done with his homework, he put his homework in his backpack, he put his backpack by the door. Without being told. And every day since”. And that’s pretty unheard of. You know she said, “I just can’t believe that being independent on the horse led him to understanding he had responsibilities elsewhere”. So when you get to say, wow, I was a part of that. I was a part of that understanding and that triumph, however minuscule it was. It’s pretty amazing. So that’s how you get addicted to therapeutic riding!

[Video ends with a credit roll and fun4thedisabled logo. Transcribed and captioned by aslcaptions.com.]

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