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Therapeutic riding gains popularity, credibility

August 5, 2010

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Therapeutic riding, like other medical treatments, has come a long way in recent decades.
Therapeutic riding is a specialized equine activity that provides physical, emotional and psychological benefits to people with cognitive and physical disabilities.
Anthony Busacca, a master’s level instructor with the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, has more than 20 years of experience in therapeutic riding. He said the advancements can be seen in every aspect of the therapy.
“The therapeutic goals and activities have progressed. More people are interested in being riders, volunteers and instructors. We have more input from therapists, special education teachers and riding instructors,” Busacca said. “Programs are more professional in nature, including certification opportunities for instructors.”
Busacca conducted a recent NARHA instructor workshop and certification course at the Mississippi Horse Park, in conjunction with Mississippi State University’s 4-H Therapeutic Equestrian Activity Member program. The workshop attracted participants from Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee and North Carolina.
Mary Riley, 4-H therapeutic riding coordinator with MSU’s Extension Service, said participants came from existing programs and from programs about to start.
“Trained instructors provide carefully planned activities developed by a health professional and a certified riding instructor. The horse is used as a treatment tool to help riders achieve their goals,” Riley said.
Riley said she expects more riders in north Mississippi with the completion of the Elizabeth A. Howard Therapeutic Activity Center. The center is a covered arena behind the Mossy Oak Mall in West Point. Bryan Farms and Jimmy Bryan donated the land to the Mississippi 4-H Foundation in 2000.
Natalie Clark Langston, who took part in the recent certification course, will help spread the therapeutic riding opportunities into the Columbus area. She recently joined the staff at Palmer Home for Children and is enlisting the young residents as volunteers for a new therapeutic riding program.
“Our goal is to help riders with special needs as well as give youth at Palmer Home some new skills and a way to give back to the community,” Langston said. “We also are looking for community volunteers to be involved in the program.”
Hannah Miller has been with the MSU TEAM program since she was old enough to volunteer. She is typically the first to arrive and last to leave on the days of therapy sessions. Now that she is 18, Miller is old enough to pursue certification.
“I’ve been involved in 4-H horse judging and have worked with the therapeutic riding program for five years. I wanted more in-depth training in therapeutic riding,” Miller said. “I just love the student riders. It’s incredibly rewarding to work with the program.”
For more information on therapeutic riding, contact Riley at (662) 325-1695 or mriley@ext.msstate.edu.

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