Many people ride horses for the fun of it, but horseback riding can also be a form of therapy. Holler Brown has been bringing his son Finn, who is autistic, to therapeutic riding classes for more than two months. Brown said, "It's not so much an occupational therapy tool so much as it is a way of communicating and building social interactions, those are really his biggest challenges." The Coastal Therapeutic Riding Program uses a ramp to help riders up onto the horse's back and extra straps to help them hang on. The special equipment helps people of all ages with different disabilities ride. Certified therapy riding instructor Kim Niggel said, "They're referred to us by their physical therapist, occupational therapist or their family physician or pediatrician." The certified instructors say that horseback riding helps people who are immobile by simulating the motion of walking and engages the core muscles. Niggel said, "They're having a lot of great results with increased muscle tone and increased ability to do the other tasks in their lives because they've activated those muscles on the activities on the horse." For Finn the therapy is all fun and games. Niggel said, "We do a lot of interactive games. We try to keep him moving, keep him focused on what we want him to do, get him to tell the horse to walk on when he's ready, make him more independent so we don't have to do those things for him." Brown said, "He's pretty much got the games nailed. There's throwing basketballs through hoops. There's a little bowling pin section but he likes them he enjoys them and he's successful at them and that's what we want." Having a good time is what everyone involved in the program wants. Niggel said "It's a very uplifting thing to see a child that's either nervous or scared or has a lot of limitations get on a horse and feel that sensation of being free and move and ride and move on their own out into the open." The riding program is in need of volunteers. Instructors say you don't need to have any knowledge about horses, they will teach you all you need to know. For more information call the Coastal Therapeutic Riding Program at 910-538-5575.
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