A GREAT Service
Therapeutic horseback riding program provides benefits
Some have autism.
Others have cerebral palsy.
All are benefiting from a GREAT service.
GREAT, which stands for Great Results Equine Assisted Therapies, is a program of The Arc Caddo-Bossier. Through therapeutic horseback riding, GREAT promotes a healthy and productive life for people with physical, cognitive and multiple disabilities.
“There are physical benefits, cognitive benefits and social benefits,” said Caroline Hendrix, director of GREAT. “For people who are learning to walk, the horse’s gait closely mimics the human’s walking gait. A person who is learning how to walk can sit on the horse and feel that movement. Other physical improvements that we see are improved posture. We do a lot of games and activities that work on motor skills.”
GREAT—in its 22nd year—takes place in Greenwood, La. Its facility, built 10 years ago, is 38,000 square feet—an arena, equine center and office space all under one roof. Outside, there are 30 acres of pasture land—giving children and adults with disabilities plenty of room to enjoy their time on horseback.
“For people with autism,” Hendrix explained, “they have social awkwardness and may not fit in at school and things like that. They come out to GREAT, and typically can really form a bond with the horse. The horse is non-judgmental, and they are just kind animals. ... It really helps boost (the rider’s) confidence, self-esteem and things like that.”
And for those who have trouble getting comfortable in a social setting, GREAT provides a welcoming environment.
“A lot of kids with disabilities may not get invited to a birthday party,” Hendrix said, “but they come out to GREAT, and they feel like they fit in. Nobody is judging them. The horse is their friend.”
The horse was also likely donated—or purchased with donations. Right now, there are 16 GREAT horses. The oldest is 28 years.
“We take them in and screen them for our program to ensure they are going to be an asset to our program,” Hendrix said. “They are very gentle, calm and understanding. They are very forgiving. A person with cerebral palsy that squeezes or has a lot of leg pressure, we have de-sensitized our horses just to accept that. I really do think the horses we work with know there is something special going on. They are more understanding and seem to really enjoy what they do.
When GREAT accepts a horse, the process of getting that horse ready for what’s to come begins.
“When we get the horses in, we want to train them to accept the different activities we do,” Hendrix said. “We may play catch with a ball. We may throw something into a bucket. We have a group of volunteers that come and help us, and the instructors ride the horses. We put students that don’t need a lot of assistance on and ease the horses into the program.”
GREAT’s staff is made up of instructors and volunteers. The instructors are certified by PATH, International—Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship.
“To get certification,” Hendrix said, “you have to pass a written test, a riding test, and you have to teach a lesson to students in front of the people who are judging you as if you are going to pass or fail. You have to know about all the different abilities, disabilities, and also about the horse.”
While the PATH instructors are an integral part of GREAT, Hendrix says the program is “extremely dependent on volunteers” who put in more than 5,000 hours of work a year. There are approximately 30 volunteers from Caddo and Bossier parishes as well as East Texas. They give their time—and get something in return.”
“We’ve had so many people say to us, ‘this is our therapy,’” Hendrix said. “It’s just a feeling of helping someone that needs help. A lot of them are horse people through and through, so they’re pretty much able to help do anything we do with the horses—feeding, grooming, tacking. They help with horse training. They help with everything.”
GREAT is offered to area schools and hospitals.
“Monday through Thursday mornings, we have Caddo Parish schools come out,” Hendrix said. “They bring out 10 students each morning from different Caddo Parish schools. It’s a part of their adaptive physical education program. Friday mornings, we do the same thing with DeSoto Parish. In the afternoon, we do private group lessons.”
According to its website. GREAT receives most of its funding from individual contributions, civic organizations, annual fundraisers, foundations and corporations.
If you would like to learn more about GREAT, you may visit www.thearccaddobossier.org.
– Tony Taglavore