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Saturday, June 7, 2003

Not just horsing around.

A bit of family news: My brother Richard, who is getting ready to ride in the equestrian events in the Special Olympics World Games in Dublin, Ireland, later this month, was featured along with my parents in the Salt Lake Tribune today. For several years he has worked with a program called Hoofbeats to Healing in Lehi, Utah — a physical and cognitive therapy program that uses a horse instead of a therapist's couch!

David Walton admits he was skeptical a horse could help his son.
"We'd experimented for 20 years to try and help him, and everything we'd tried had been relatively unsuccessful," David Walton said. "I didn't see how doing something with horses would be different, and I didn't think he'd have the energy or resolve. I was wrong."
Richard won his English and Western equatation events on Friday, and is one of 12 athletes selected to represent Utah in the World Special Olympics held in Dublin, Ireland, June 21-29.
"I have a natural touch with them," Richard said of the horses. "Horse riding helps me think better."
Richard's condition makes it difficult for him to process much information at one time, but horseback riding helps him learn to do so. His body is constantly flowing and moving with the horse's movements, while his mind must process what he needs to do next.
Before he became involved with horses, Richard could follow only one or two written instructions at a time.
Now he can follow so many directions, "we don't even have to think about it," his father said.

The first time I watched Richard with horses, I was surprised to see not only how well he interacted with the animals but also how well he could communicate about them. Conversation had not been his strong suit, but in the horse barn he can readily explain grooming, riding techniques, and the characteristics of each animal. The horses, meanwhile, play a central therapeutic role. Tammy, his coach, explained that horses have an acute sense of human emotions and intentions. Richard was practicing low jumps during one of my visits, and when the horse would veer off to one side rather than leaping over a hurdle, Tammy would ask him what happened. Sometimes Richard had given the horse an unclear or improper signal and command; sometimes the horse had sensed that Richard didn't feel comfortable with the jump. In each case, Richard analyzed what had happened, described it to Tammy, and then tried again. Of course, it was a lot of fun — but Richard was also developing relational and communication skills that had never come easily to him. The program has been perhaps the best thing that has happened to my brother. I'm very proud of him and can't wait to hear about his trip to Ireland.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 7 June 2003 at 11:40 PM

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