Equine Assisted Therapy participants to ride in expo

Emma Welch, 6, receives a trophy to represent her riding award for the  Therapeutic Riding Expo in 2015. (Courtesy photo)
Staff Writer

A horse riding expo will be held at the Mississippi State University Horse Park on Friday, April 21, to showcase the skills participants in the MSU Extension Equine Assisted Therapy Program have gained throughout the semester.

This is the third annual Therapeutic Riding Expo. The program has been around since 1998, and is made possible by the Human Sciences Department Extension Service, and Animal and Dairy Sciences Department, which takes care of the horses. This year's riders range in age from 4 years old to 40 years old.

The expo is free to the public and any donations will benefit the program and its upkeep, from facilities to keeping the 12 participating horses healthy.

"We ride all year around and put on a show once a year for family members that don't get a chance to see them ride," said Cassie Brunson, the program coordinator and an instructor for the Equine Assisted Therapy Program.

Brunson has worked in the program for four years, and explained some of the impacts that equine assisted therapy can have on riders.

"Every rider has a different goal, and we do assessments at the beginning of each semester and determine what their goals are," Brunson said. 

Brunson said many riders are in wheelchairs and wish to build their core muscle strength and their legs. When an individual who is used to being in a wheelchair is put on a horse, it stretches out the legs and the pelvis.
"The movement of a horse also mimics that of a human," Brunson said. "It exercises those muscles as if they're walking. And, when you are siting up on a horse, your core is engaged the whole time."

Some riders attend for the social aspect and to be active. There are different games and activities that riders can participate in.

Since the program is under Mississippi State University, it follows the schedule of the university, but during the semester, there are weekly sessions for riders. This semester, the program served around 46 riders.