MSU Extension offers therapeutic riding program

Nora Molina is one of the participants in the MSU Extension Equine Assisted Therapy Programs along with Jack the horse. (Submitted photo)
Staff Writer

The Mississippi State University Extension Service offers therapeutic horseback riding to children with a wide range of disabilities as well as veterans through their Equine Assisted Therapy Programs.

The programs benefit children of all ages with different disabilities and conditions, including but not limited to autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, learning disabilities, spina bifida, spinal cord injuries, visual and hearing impairments, cardiovascular accidents and strokes, brain injuries, amputations, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.

Program Coordinator for the MSU Extension Equine Assisted Therapy Programs Cassie Brunson said programs for veterans were recently started too.

Brunson said the therapy riding programs offer countless benefits for participants.

"Mental health is a big plus, and I think that's a lot of the reason why veterans come," she said. "For the children, it's a big self confidence booster."

Brunson said the therapy also offers physical benefits as well as mental to the children.

"A lot of these children are in a wheelchair so they get on a horse and they get to work muscles that they typically aren't able to work," she said "So there's physical and mental aspects, and it's just a boost to their self esteem."

Brunson said she believes it is also a fun experience for participants, and different activities are planned each week to help participant work toward goals.

"We set specific goals for them and do an assessment," she said. "For some classes, the goal we're working on is speech and communication, so we may have a bunch of stuffed animals set out, and they have to ride and then they have to say what kind of animal it is, what does it do, what does it say, things like that."

According to Brunson, some parents see an improvement in their children within a few days of their session.

"Parents have told me that their communication has increased up to 48 hours after they ride," she said." Some of these kids that are completely nonverbal, they say when they pull in the drive way of the center they get excited and start moving and kicking, and since they are nonverbal they have no other way to express this is something they enjoy."

All the horses used in the programs are trained, older horses.

"We're very selective and very specific for the horses we choose for the program," she said. "We take them on a 6-week trial, and if they make it on the trial we keep them, but even before then we even take them on the trial, we like for them to be even tempered, older horses that have had a job before. Most of them are old rope horses and ranch horses."

Anyone interested in signing up can do so from the MSU Extension website at

The cost for a 10-week semester is $150, and participants must be signed off by a doctor. The deadline to sign up for the fall semester is the end of August for sessions to begin in September. Weekly sessions take place at the program's covered arena in West Point.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Mississippi Horse Park, an end-of-semester riding expo will take place to showcase the participants of the spring semester that began in February.

Brunson said the veterans who participated in the horsemanship class will be honored at the beginning of the expo with a medal for completing the class, and it will give families a chance to watch their children and grandchildren ride.

“This is an opportunity for a lot of the parents who don’t get to come watch their kids ride because its during their work day,” Brunson said. “Their caregivers bring them and their mom or dad or grandparents don’t get to see them ride. It’s a great time for them to show off their riding skills to their families.”