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Career Connections: Equestrian Therapist

7 minutes

(woman) My name is Laurie Kimura. I am the vocational services manager, barn manager, therapeutic riding manager, here at Sunshine in Maumee, Ohio. Therapeutic riding is teaching horseback riding to people with physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities. I was introduced to horses when I was young by my mother, who grew up on a farm. I was lucky to spend time at the barn and go to competitions and became comfortable around the horses. I knew early on that I wanted them in my life. In high school, I was really interested in sports and got hurt a couple times, so I started volunteering in a physical therapy department at a hospital. Initially, I was going to be a physical therapist. But then when I discovered therapeutic riding and had such a strong horse background, I decided to take that route instead. It all has come together in that we're doing hippotherapy now in the barn. I have physical therapists and occupational therapists, and I assist them by providing a safe place, safe horses, and I get to watch the riders benefit from her therapy. The responsibilities of a therapeutic riding instructor are to engage the client, engage the rider, progress their skills. Biomotor skills are increased by therapeutic riding when people are tacking up horses, fastening the buttons, holding on to the reins. Gross motor skills are involved, climbing on the horses, doing exercises on the horses. The social interaction is huge with our volunteers and the instructors and the horse. We encourage the rider to interact with that horse and say, "You're doing a great job." Coordination is one of the biggest benefits that I've seen with more of our advanced riders because they have to learn to keep their feet in the stirrups. They learn to hold the rein, then use their legs and hands as aids to turn the horses. They listen to the instructor at the same time, so there's a lot going on that works on their coordination. When we assess the rider's ability, sometimes they need help with stability, so we have someone on each side of the horse that's called a side-walker. They give as little or as much support as needed. Sometimes it's just walking next to them to reassure them, putting an arm on their thigh to help them keep their balance. There's a leader that will take the horse around the arena, lead the horse around. Some people look forward to their therapy. That's the highlight of their week. When they walk in, we've already made an impact 'cause they've got this giant smile. We have one rider who is blind and deaf, but his parents insisted he would love horseback riding. Our instructors were, "What do I do? I can't tell him to lift his reins or make a circle." But he can get other input from that. He can get the smell of the barn, the horses, the leather on the saddles. He can have sensation of touching the saddle, touching the soft fur, touching the leather, touching the rubbery reins. There's all sorts of sensory input that people can get from therapeutic riding that you don't really think about on a daily basis. Our supportive employment program has opportunity for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities to come work in the barn each week. They have job coaches that teach them barn skills-- cleaning the barn, taking care of the animals, learning about the animals. They can come and be productive and feel good about themselves. It makes a huge difference in their lives. Therapeutic riding and hippotherapy have been around for many years, probably at least 75 that I know of. And it is definitely a growing field. There are more schools offering programs for people to be trained to do it. Courses that I think would be beneficial to lead to this career would definitely be some communications classes because you have to communicate with your riders, with your parents. Other courses that would be helpful would be your science and your physiology. You want to learn about parts of the body, parts of the brain, and that'll help you understand physical, cognitive, emotional disabilities down the road. If you're not going the college route to get a degree in equine studies, you can go to clinics. There's an organization we belong to called P.A.T.H. And they will perform clinics throughout the year, throughout the country, different states, and you can learn from them. They have courses online that you can take. It's very easy to come to work because of the amazing people that we meet and work with and watch all these miraculous things happen on horseback. And being able to combine my love of physiology and training the horses and preparing the horses for those riders is so exciting for me. It's just magical.

Funding to purchase and make this educational production accessible was provided by the U.S. Department of Education:

PH: 1-800-USA-LEARN (V) or WEB: www.ed.gov.

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A riding instructor and barn manager discusses her career in equestrian therapy. She works at a nonprofit that provides services for people with developmental disabilities. Part of the "Career Connections" series.

Media Details

Runtime: 7 minutes

Career Connections
Episode 1
5 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 2
6 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Career Connections
Episode 3
3 minutes
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Episode 4
5 minutes
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Episode 5
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Episode 6
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Episode 7
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Episode 8
7 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
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Episode 9
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Career Connections
Episode 10
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Grade Level: 7 - 12