Riding Therapy Center offers unique therapeutic experience
Ruth Coffey, 7, runs up the ramp in her pink helmet to wait for her horse, Bud. She danced back and forth from right foot to left in excitement as Calle Hayes, 30, executive director, leads Bud over for her to mount.
Ruth's face splits into a wide smile as a volunteer helps her onto Bud, and she is led out into the arena for her weekly therapy session.
Equine therapy is a unique treatment for people of all ages that has been offered by The Riding Therapy Center of Victoria since 1989. Hayes has been the executive director for a year and was introduced to the center five years ago when she started as a volunteer.
"I really like that it has so many aspects; the clients and the horses, being outside and working with the volunteers." she said.
The center has an active list of 60 volunteers and 30 clients. The clients' needs differ according to their diagnosis, Hayes said.
"About 50 percent of our clients are autistic, but cerebral palsy and development delay disorders are also a large part of what we help treat," she said.
Ruth has been attending equine therapy for four years in addition to physical therapy and speech therapy for a congenital disorder.
"When she started, she just sat on the horse and screamed; now, she can let them know when she's ready; she can play games and take part in activities," her father, David Coffey, said. "She has gained confidence and is no longer as introverted."
Ruth engages in exercises at the center to help her with muscle control and speech. She practices everything from kneeling on her horse and pulling back on the reins, to putting rings of various hues in a bucket and shooting a basketball while mounted.
Coffey leans against the horse paddock with Ruth's siblings - Jimmy, 6; Joseph, 4; and Mariah, 8 - as Ruth trots by on Bud.
"I don't think we even understand all the horses do for these kids. There's a lot we don't know, but we do know they need to work their muscles. It activates their brains in ways ordinary life doesn't," Coffey said.
At the end of her session, Ruth pats Bud's nose in thanks before running into her father's arms, grinning ear-to-ear.
"She used to not want to come; now, she waits by the door on riding day," Coffey said, holding his happy daughter as they bid goodbye to the staff and horses at The Riding Therapy Center until next week.