For The Want Of A Horse... - Home on the Range Blog at - 232199

Home on the Range

For the Want of a Horse... 
Apr. 17, 2011 11:27 am 
Updated: Apr. 23, 2011 10:19 pm

Animals have always been an important part of my life. Horses, especially, having been ‘horse crazy’ since I was a toddler. Consequently, I spent most of my life in or at the barn and more hours on horseback than on the ground, at least until the past few years.

Being both a klutz and a daredevil, I have had more than my fair share of injuries and surgeries, running the gamut from skull fractures, a coma, to multiple fractures in my back and a total knee replacement. No matter what the injury, or whatever warnings from the doctors ensued, I always went back to riding as soon as I possibly could. It was often difficult and sometimes painful at first, but the rewards were worth it. What I didn’t realize at the time is how many times I actually rehabilitated myself.


I spent over 30 years training show horses and giving riding instruction. Near the end of those 30 years, a friend brought a child with Downs Syndrome to visit. I led him around on a horse and he exhibited more pleasure and excitement than any of the kids I had ever worked with. I thought it sad that kids with special needs don’t get the opportunities to experience what other kids take for granted. Then another friend asked if she could bring a little girl with Cerebral Palsy over and if I would put her on a horse. Being totally unfamiliar with the nature of special needs, I began to worry something might go wrong. I had high anxiety about it and began to do some research. As fate would have it (that is, HE who is in charge of our fates), I found a series of articles on various handicaps on a N.A.R.H.A. website. I had never heard of NARHA before and I think it’s funny that it was the first site that came up. NARHA stands for North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. It is an entity based in Colorado, under which over 600 certified centers in the US and Canada work with special needs children and adults using the horse as a therapy platform.


The horse has a 3 dimensional gait, same as a human. The hips swing forward-back, up-down, and side to side as they walk. This movement cannot be duplicated in conventional therapy and the simple act of sitting on a moving animal strengthens and awakens the muscle, nerve, and skeletal structure of the human pelvis and in more than one case, has resulted in previously non-ambulatory people being able to walk. There are multiple ways to utilize the horse for maximum benefits for a myriad of issues. Fascinated by what I had read, I found a NARHA center an hour away and went to observe what they do. A short time later I volunteered and they encouraged me to go through Instructor Certification training and consider opening my own center.


At that time, NARHA was able to address some 66 different disabilities, among them CP, Autism and Spina Bifada. Many centers address mental and emotional disabilities as well. It was amazing to me to see the results.


All instructors must be NARHA trained and certified and medical professionals, such as Physical and Occupational Therapists and Psychiatrists are often available for consult and input. Riders have  volunteers who walk along on each side, to insure they remain seated and balanced and another leads the horse. Safety is always primary.


A little 4 year old girl who was severely affected with autism had spent her life non-communicative. She was very difficult to hang on to, or guide. There was a serious disconnect and it was impossible to get her attention. She just wanted to run, climb, move and seemed totally unaware of who or what was in her world. We got her mounted and I gave the horse leader some instructions, while I tried my best to get her to listen or look my way. Failing in the effort, I had them stop and gave some new directions. As always,as a cue to prepare horse, walkers and riders, I asked them to

“Walk On”


Again, no positive result from her, so I stopped them a second time, gave new directions and said


“Walk On”


A third time I had them stop and while I was giving instructions, the little girl began to rock back and forth and then loudly she proclaimed




I was surprised, as her mother had TOLD me she couldn’t speak. I looked across the arena as her mother rose to her feet, hanging onto the fence with tears streaming down her face. It was the first time she had heard her child’s voice.

Not only could she speak, but she could speak clearly. She, like many individuals with autism had a strong desire and need for movement, hence the frequent rocking and self stimulation one might observe. The horse was providing this motion. Her special needs teacher contacted and told me


“I have the know-how, you have the incentive. Let’s get together and teach her to talk”


Four months later, I was invited to watch this same little girl in speech therapy, identify flash cards of fruits, animals and colors and group them 100%.


An 11 yr old boy with moderate retardation was another client. His posture was typical of people with this diagnosis, stoop shouldered with eyes lowered. He took direction well and was able to ride an old mare of mine fairly independently, with just myself walking alongside as insurance. Being able to stop, turn and direct an 1100 lb. animal was a real coup for him. Several sessions into his riding, his mother told me his teacher had asked what they were doing differently.


“She said his posture has improved dramatically, which we of course have noticed, but now he is even participating in class and answering questions. His self esteem has sky rocketed!”


There are hours worth of personal stories I could relate to you, on how I saw this program miraculously change lives.


Riding strengthens muscles, improves coordination, improves posture, balance and breathing function, sharpens cognitive skills and promotes relationship. These are just a few of the benefits and only a couple of examples of the incredible differences equine therapy makes in the lives of these worthy but often forgotten and invisible people.


Maintaining a NARHA Center, like any non-profit organization, is costly. There is insurance, feed, veterinary needs, tack and special equipment, props and other needs. These centers are driven and exist mainly due to strong volunteer forces.


If you have a gift or passion, it has an outlet here. If you love to cook, cater, or entertain, help throw a fundraiser. If you love animals, volunteer to lead, walk alongside,or care for one of the specially trained horses (more often than not these are retired horses who have been given a second chance at life and service). If you are skilled at writing, or book keeping, volunteer to help in the office. If you are great with people skills, how about being an outreach person and managing volunteers? If you love children, you will REALLY love THESE children. They have much to teach you about overcoming challenges and how to grasp pure joy in the moment. Perhaps you can babysit siblings while the students ride, or set up a bible study for parents who, due to the nature of their child's disability, are unable to attend church or social events themselves.


If you are the parent of a special needs child, or caregiver of an adult, most State Regional centers cover your costs of this therapy.


NO matter what your abilities are there is a need for you. I recommend you look up and find the center nearest you. You won’t regret it!

Apr. 17, 2011 2:22 pm
NARHA is a wonderful organization, your stories always amaze me.
Apr. 17, 2011 4:03 pm
Petey, I had the wnderful opportunity of having a scout troop at a state home for mentally handicapped. The professionals there knew that volunteers could penetrate into sensitivities that they could not simply because of time restraints. We always had the best of times when animals were involved. Since the home shut down, I have often wanted to volunteer again at another facility but work wouldn't let me get tied to a schedule. This posting of yours just put some pieces together for me. First; I am retired and have the time. Second; we have a facility similar to yours just ten miles from me. Third; it would give my exercise more purpose than just my health. I doubt that I will ever be able to ride again but I know I can still sweet talk horses and lead them as I walk. Here's the link to that facility if you want to look it up ...
Apr. 17, 2011 4:13 pm
Mike, that is great to hear! Its such a fantastic use of our resources! Its one of the few things I really miss since we moved here.
Apr. 17, 2011 6:05 pm
Petey - as you know I grew up on a ranch so horses have always been a part of my life - my profession is a chef and caterer. Your blog has inspired me to go to the NARHA website and find a center near me and find out what I can do to help. Thank you for another great blog - God Bless you Petey and Happy Easter - He is Risen!
Apr. 17, 2011 6:23 pm
that is awesome, luv2cook. You will love it! Amen and amen!
Apr. 17, 2011 7:47 pm
Hey Petey - I went to the website and have sent an e-mail to the NARHA rep for region 5 - my area. Hopefully there is something I can do.
Apr. 17, 2011 10:01 pm
Petey, again, you rock. The little girl and "Walk on!" nearly made me spill a few.
Apr. 18, 2011 5:42 am
Petey, NARHA is a wonderful organization! Thanks for the beautifully written testimonal! Walk on!
Apr. 18, 2011 6:11 am
Thank you, Petey! You just put the pieces together for me too. I've been wondering what to do before and when DH retires. DS is going in the Navy so what to do with his mature and very well trained horse? My horsemanship skills have improved vastly since I changed Twister's name to Reese(as in the candy). I've helped with fund raising in other groups. Thanks for putting the pieces together for me!
Apr. 18, 2011 7:48 am
I'm so glad I was able to share a little about this organization with you guys. It is such a VERY worthy cause! These kids (&grownups too) are some of the neatest people I have ever met. They gave me a whole new appreciation for people and a new and greater perspective on life.
Apr. 18, 2011 7:54 am
Wonderful blog....when my husband's niece was riding, they offered some therapy riding to disabled kids. She volunteered quite a bit, and it was amazing to watch. One of the horses, Smokey, was blind in one eye and nearly blind in the other, but he was exceptionally suited for this type of work. More than once, Kate would call us in tears, telling us about some amazing experience she had witnessed that day. It was life-changing not only for the kids, but for the people who worked with them! :)
Apr. 18, 2011 8:04 am
Wow Petey - you have done it again. So moving. We live near Norco - "Horse Town USA" I am looking up NARHA - Thanks.
Apr. 18, 2011 9:20 am
Horses are truely amazing- even if you don't have a disability they are still the best therapists, bar none. A bad day, stress, work, low self-esteem, loneliness, klutziness- they're all gone as soon as you get in that saddle. It is amazing what they can do :)
Apr. 18, 2011 10:25 am
Simply amazing. What a wonderful gift to give these children and you sound so rewarded in turn. Again, Petey, you are truly blessed. Thank you for sharing....
Apr. 18, 2011 2:56 pm
I hope my mention in your last blog of my love of horses prompted you to do one on these magnificent creatures...and you have quite effectively involved a topic that needs more awareness. I did volunteer for a time at our local TEAD (The Equestrian Association for the Disabled) which is about a 30 minute drive away....and it truly is amazing to see how these kids respond to animals, and yes, these animals are given a new lease on life when they are 'retired' from whatever is was that they were doing. Great blog Petey! and congrats on being Cook of the Week too! :)
Apr. 18, 2011 3:36 pm
I did think about you as I was writing it. Contact with our PT from our center prompted it and it does need more awareness. There is so much people can do, and I truly believe if they knew how, they would step up! The benefits work both ways, and thanks for the COW wishes haha! moo.
Apr. 18, 2011 5:38 pm
Oh yeah!!!! Congratulations Petey - Cook of the Week!!! I think I would have named you blog writer and pic winner of the year!! But they didn't ask me - - but I'll put in my 2 cents here anyway - Go Petey!!!!
Apr. 19, 2011 8:47 am
Petey, thank you for sharing this with us. I need to look into the nearest one here. The stories you shared are so touching!
Apr. 19, 2011 10:00 am
Wow, you are amazing!
Apr. 19, 2011 1:11 pm
Lifted my spirits to read this today!!! Thank you for all that you do!
Apr. 19, 2011 2:18 pm
I too have always been horse crazy! I have not ridden in quite some time due to some health issues, but you have made me realize that may be just the thing I should do! Your blog is very inspiring- God bless you and the difference you have made in these children's lives. I too am going to check out the website. Thank you for sharing- I always love your blogs :)
Apr. 19, 2011 4:16 pm
Congratulations for Cook of the Week, Petey!
Apr. 19, 2011 7:34 pm
What a wonderful subject for your blog. There are several facilities on LI serving both the physically and mentally challenged. Way back in the late 1960s the stable owner where we kept our horses was offering a unit for special needs kids in summer riding camp. We were not certified (there was no one to certify us) but we worked with some of the teachers who had proposed the unit. I was a teen, but I remember being so excited when we saw progress. Now I have to see where I might be able to help.
Apr. 19, 2011 8:39 pm
I am a big believer in one person making a difference, and all of you combined, will surely affect so many lives! Thank you so much for your comments!
Apr. 20, 2011 12:14 pm
Wow! Your blogs are amazing, but I have told you that so many times! You have obviously been blessed and others receive your blessings in so many ways; learning of your work w/ the horses and challenged, and the way you share your daily lives with the rest of us. Thank you.
Apr. 20, 2011 12:44 pm
Thanks Chris..btw..I love your story about the sweet potatoes..I made some potatoes au gratin for the family the same way once LOL
Apr. 20, 2011 12:59 pm
Thanks for the wonderful work you are doing for these kids! I am a teacher and a horse lover. My dreams of taking lessons and riding didn't come true until I was an adult and could pay for them myself. It was well worth the wait! Amazing creatures!
Apr. 20, 2011 10:44 pm
That is so moving and amazing. I'm sitting in front of the computer with tears in my eyes.
Apr. 21, 2011 6:55 am
I rarely read blogs, but yours caught my attention, especially on a cooking page, I found it very touching and inspiring, I am a nurse that works with special needs children, I had to share your message on facebook with my friends. Thank you for sharing, will keep the message going.
Apr. 21, 2011 7:40 am
I have an 8 year old nonverbal autistic daughter with CP, (along with many other medical conditions) who LOVES to ride! She goes weekly to our local Therapeutic Riding Center for her lesson. I can not even begin to explain the joy on her face as she rides. It is absolutely priceless! Her balance has improved tremendously,and she doesn't have as many falls. She experiences a sense of self worth when she is the one caring for someone - her 4 legged friend! There are NARHA Centers all over the US. I'd like to encourage anyone who was touched by this blog to find a way to volunteer at one. You do not have to be a horse lover. They always need help in the office and on the grounds, and they can always use financial help. Where my daughter goes, there have been enough contributions for all youth riders lessons to be covered. That is a huge blessing, b/c nothing with special needs is cheap. God Bless you for sharing this and touching lives!
Apr. 21, 2011 7:53 am
First of all I am sitting here blubbering like a baby after reading your wonderful blog. I love the way you write and am always excited to read what is going on in your world. I am a para-educator in an elementary school. The special needs children I work with every day have a myriad of challenges from mental to behavior. No matter how severe they are very aware of themselves and how the world perceives them. They should be treated with the same respect as any other child and given every opportunity to prove themselves. I get very Mama Bear when anyone is disrespectful to "MY KIDS", even their regular ed teachers who sometimes see them as a burden. They are a blessing . Thank you for your column. I teach in a rural area and will look into the nearest center that offers NARHA programs. Keep writing, you are extremely talented in so many ways. :)
Apr. 21, 2011 9:50 am
So touching ... I have had to come back and read this a few times now.....
Apr. 21, 2011 1:21 pm
Thanks so much for posting this! Coincidentally, a friend of mine just got 2 more horses and I passed the link for N.A.H.A on to her. Animals are magical and this just backs me up in my conviction. You keep doing what you do. You not only have a talent for writing but also for inspiring the rest of us. Bless your heart! :o)
Apr. 22, 2011 4:35 am
What a wonderful thing! There is actually a ranch that does horse therapy about 3 miles or so from our house. They most recently acquired a horse from the Ft. Sill army base named "General" that was retired from his duties. Now he works with special needs children. What a blessing! Thank you, Petey.
Apr. 22, 2011 2:28 pm
Petey, I thought it would make you smile to know that my friend passed on that link to HER friend as well! This little stone you tossed in the pond is causing ripples all over the place! WOOT! :o)
Apr. 22, 2011 3:59 pm
That is awesome cheepchick! :)
Apr. 23, 2011 3:05 am
Hi Petey! I saw your picture on Cook of the Week! Congratulations...i think i have just a little to go before i make it there, lol! Btw, how do you get people to view your recipes. I have only added one, but with so many different recipes to the one you want to share, i'm just curious how people will find mine. Congratulations again on Cook of the Week! I certainly hope to become that good. Hugs!
Apr. 23, 2011 8:38 am
thanks edt...Cook of the Week is just randomly selected. I don't honestly deserve any merit for being there. If you have some nice recipes and they haven't been published here (which sometimes takes years) you can let folks on the "Buzz" know about them. Happy Cookin!
Apr. 23, 2011 11:29 am
Hey Petey - just wanted to pop in and wish a "Happy Easter" to you and Randyman. How blessed we are to serve a Risen Savior. I'm prepping today - I'll be doing breakfast for around 50 tomorrow morning before church. HE LIVES!!
Apr. 23, 2011 5:33 pm
Wow, 50! I can't even drag myself up in the mornings, much less be able to feed 50 people! LOL
Apr. 23, 2011 9:39 pm
Maybe one day I'll be able to make my way to your neck of the woods and I'll be happy to cook for all of ya'll - I figure 50 church folks equates to about 10 cowboys - lol. Cooking is what I do best - you round'em up - I'll feed'em.
Apr. 23, 2011 10:19 pm
thanks for getting back to me Petey!Great advice:)
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About Me
Kids are raised, we are ranchhands on a 250,000 acre working cattle ranch 110 miles from the nearest small town, so we raise a lot of our own food, vegetables, fruits, milk,eggs and meat. Love riding and working cattle, but find myself spending a lot more time in the kitchen, and the garden.
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Having 2 Jersey cows as well as milk goats, playing with fresh milk is a hobby, making our own butter, yogurt, sour cream, cheeses, soap and all the other great stuff you can do with fresh raw milk.
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Homemade from scratch...anything! All traditions are sort of gone by the wayside, as we live so far from family now
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Most things from this site, this has been the best thing the internet has had to offer!
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A layered Jello dessert...the middle layer never set, so it did the 'ooze-wiggle'...and...well..I liquified a couple of chickens on 2 different occasions, turning them into a black gel. Moral of that story is, don't start cooking then go clean barns!...and there was the time that my kids were helping me make Thanksgiving dinner and SOMEbody (who resembled my youngest son) forgot to put the sugar in the pie!!!
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