Therapeutic horse riding in Hannibal

Patrick Massaro, a therapeutic riding client, rides “Coal” at Meadow Gates Farm. Therapeutic riding promotes socialization since instructors, therapists, volunteers, parents and riders get together. During lessons friendships are made, acceptable behaviors are reinforced and students develop a human-animal bond.

by Nicole Reitz

Rachel Gates, owner of Meadow Gates Farm in Hannibal, has a passion for riding horses and helping others.

So she decided to combine the two.

Gates recently began offering therapeutic riding lessons for people with disabilities at her farm.

Therapeutic riding is a program that provides structured horseback riding sessions to children and adults with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities. People with disabilities can benefit from riding because it can help with improving posture, balance, strength, and social skills, Gates said.

It also builds self-esteem in students because they are handling animals as large as 1,200 pounds.

“Just being on a horse for someone with physical disabilities helps them with their muscle strength because they have to learn to move with the horse,” said Gates.

Gates, who has been working at Tanglewood Riding Center in Syracuse, has worked with clients with cerebral palsy, ADHD and autism.

Gates has owned and operated Meadow Gates Farms for the past four years. She started researching therapeutic riding two years ago and became interested after seeing the benefits horses had on her husband’s psychological health.

Gates’ husband is disabled and is unable to work outside of the home. She saw her husband interact with a horse and form a bond that positively affected his mood. She began volunteering with an organization and joined with Astride.

Gates is certified to instruct therapeutic riding courses. She decided to bring therapeutic riding to her own farm because Tanglewood’s facilities are not available during the fall and winter months.

During the one hour lessons at her farm, Gates plays games with students to instill other skills while riding.

Riding on a horse helps the disabled build core strength, and gives them an opportunity to stretch outside of physical therapy. Students stretch before getting on a horse. They learn how to steer, move forward and stop. By regulation, Gates’ students also have to practice an emergency dismount once a year.

Gates’ goal is to raise funds so that she can build an indoor arena where students can ride all year long, including the summer. Some of Gates’ clients are unable to tolerate warmer temperatures.

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