PLAINFIELD – Horsing around is very important to Ainslee Hayner, 13, of Oswego – but that’s over during the winter.
Starting in spring and through fall, Ainslee – who has severe developmental delays caused by a seizure disorder – receives therapy on horseback from the Ready Set Ride therapeutic recreational facility at 13056 Essington Road in Plainfield, said Ainslee’s mother, Trisha Hayner-Cook.
When the program stops during the winter, Ainslee’s’ limbs become stiff and her posture slackens, Hayner-Cook said. It’s the program’s thoroughness – which includes interacting with the horses – that makes the difference.
“It’s just not 45 minutes on a horse and then go home,” Hayner-Cook said.
The nonprofit program began in 2001, said Lisa Afshari, one of the directors, when the founder discovered her daughter – who had autism and speech delays – talked more when riding a horse. The founder is no longer with the program, Afshari said.
With 14 horses providing 80 rides a week, the program caters to individuals on the autism spectrum, as well as those with cerebral palsy, chromosome disorders, visual impairments and multiple sclerosis, Afshari said. Some clients are nonverbal, she added.
But even through the program shuts down in the winter, the horses still need to be maintained.
That’s why Ready Set Ride is hosting “Cowboys and Angels Still in the Saddle” from 6 to 11 p.m. Nov. 7 at 176 West, 1110 NE Frontage Road, Joliet.
The program is for clients ages 3 and up. The oldest client is 28. Recently, an 89-year-old came out for a ride, fulfilling a long-standing wish to ride a horse, Afshari said.
The advantage of using horses is that therapy – to the child – feels like fun with a cherished pet instead of work, Afshari said.
It facilitates speech therapy because the child is sitting tall and straight, enhancing lung capacity. It helps clients with core strength, trunk control, balance, stretching, developing various muscle groups, empathy and self-esteem, Afshari said.
For Bridie Boyce, 12, of Naperville, who is on the autism spectrum and has epilepsy, therapy initiated a passion for stories – if the books are about horses, said Bridie’s mother, Meg Boyce. It also has become an absorbing hobby. Bridie has DVDs, action figures, clothing and bed sheets all featuring horses, Boyce said.
“Lisa lets her spend time engaging with the horses, brushing them and feeding them,” Boyce said.
Games on horseback include placing colored rings on matching poles and playing “resort,” where riders write their names on a dry erase board, maneuvering their horses down the “water slide” and shooting water guns at “sharks” tied to a fence, Afshari said. They also play baseball, swinging bats and stealing bases.
“Many of them have never played baseball due to their disabilities,” Afshari said.
Good therapy horses are less about breed and more about personality, Afshari said. Will a horse mind hoops hanging off its ears and balls bouncing off its back? Can it tolerate poking, prodding and riders that lean to one side? Can it accurately read body language?
“If the horse panics and thinks the child is falling off, we know it will not be a good horse for a special-needs child,” Afshari said.
Horse size also is important. Side walkers can’t balance small children on very tall horses. Children requiring wheelchairs can’t stretch their legs across a wide horse. Not every horse can accommodate a 200-pound adult.
Every client cannot tolerate every gait. Some horses have long strides, short steps. A “swing back and forth” walk rather than lifting and placing their feet on the ground makes rides less bumpy, Afshari said.
Finally, Ready Set Ride depends on trained volunteers – three per ride – and always is in need of volunteers and donations. Grants offset some of the therapy cost, Afshari said.
They also help with buying horses, including twice-yearly routine veterinarian and dental care. Grants don’t cover horse maintenance, however.
“Even in the winter, they still need to eat three times a day,” Afshari said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Cowboys and Angels Still in the Saddle
WHEN: 6 to 11 p.m. Nov. 7
WHERE: 176 West, 1110 NE Frontage Road, Joliet
ETC: Dinner, cash bar, more than 200 silent auction items and 10 live auction items
TICKETS: $35 each. RSVP by Oct. 30 at 630-369-3527