Paula Brocious loves horses.
Calming, relaxing, and providing a sense of peace and quiet are all things that her horse, Neptune, provides her.
“(It’s) the best part of my week,” she said, her face lighting up with an infectious smile.
Paula has been taking horse riding lessons every Monday for the past 20 years. She is one of Excentia’s many riders at Greystone Manor Therapeutic Riding Center in Lancaster.
Horseback riding provides numerous benefits to the rider, including cognitive, social and physical benefits, said Heather Mitterer, community outreach coordinator at Greystone.
Learning cause and effect through experiencing how the horse reacts when the rider shifts his weight, or forming an emotional bond with the horse are some of the benefits that riding provides. The horses also allow the riders to build confidence in themselves.
One example is someone with an attention disorder, Mitterer said. The act of riding a horse helps them develop and keep focus.
“They start to understand outside of themselves because there’s a horse that reacts and responds to everything they do,” she said.
Greystone Manor has been operating since 1981 and serves individuals with a documented disability. The non-profit houses 11 horses, all free-leased, and provides indoor and outdoor lessons, Mitterer said. The horses experience a thorough training period to ensure they are ready for riders, she added.
“Our instructors work hand-in-hand with each horse. They’ll try to spook it – everything they can to prepare the horse. We want a horse who’s not going to panic over every single thing.”
When Greystone is no longer able to use the horse, they give it back to its owner, Mitterer said.
The stable does not utilize therapists with the riders – volunteers and instructors with special training and certifications in equine assisted activities help guide the rider so that they can eventually ride the horse themselves.
“It’s the horses that are doing the therapy,” Mitterer said.
Greystone also offers unmounted clinics, where clients focus on getting to know the horse, learn about safety, and how to care for and groom the horse before they ever mount it.
Karen Weber-Zug, who has been an instructor at Greystone for five years, has some amazing stories about how the horses have helped the riders. One rider, she remembers, had trouble with facial expressions and exhibited a flat affect. After taking lessons at the stable for several years, the 16-year-old now gives verbal responses.
“I’ll never forget the day I asked him if he wanted to go outside and he smiled,” she said.
With another client on the autism spectrum, instructors used the horse to teach the child how to accept change and be more flexible in his daily schedule, Weber-Zug said.
Riding horses is also a great benefit for those who cannot walk because the movement of the horse simulates the feeling of walking, Mitterer said.
“That’s an amazing feeling to know what that feels like,” she said. “You are controlling the horse.”
The specific benefits each rider receives depend on the individual person, Mitterer said.
Riders at Greystone range in age from 5 to 66. At 46, Brocious has achieved the ability to ride Neptune independently. She prefers to ride Neptune outside, if possible, but sometimes rain forces them indoors. When that happens, Brocious said Neptune gets scared, but she reassures him that it’s ok.
“I tell him not to be afraid,” she said.
Amanda Witmer, direct support staff at Excentia, said she likes to watch Brocious ride and see the relationship she has developed with Neptune.
“She’s very affectionate with the horses. She always has to say goodbye to them,” Witmer said.
In fact, Brocious has her own special way of saying goodbye to the horses. Before she dismounts, she guides the horse in a “moonwalk” of walking backwards. Brocious proudly states that she taught the horse how to do that.
“She just loves it. She talks about (riding) all the time,” Witmer said.
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