Nonprofit offers hope to children and adults with special needs using equine assisted activities and therapies
Nonprofit offers hope to children and adults with special needs using equine assisted activities and therapies.
By Sondra Barr
For over 30 years, Horses Help has been serving the special needs and at risk community by using horses and people to improve quality of life. And, for the past 10 of those years, 85086 resident Saebra Pipoly has worked hand-in-hand with the nonprofit organization to help thousands across the Valley.
Saebra started with Horses Help as a volunteer through an internship with Arizona State University. Although she’d grown up around horses, she wasn’t planning on a career revolving around equines and instead had planned to go into counseling. Working with Horses Help stoked her passion for helping people and re-ignited her love of horses.
When Horses Help needed an additional instructor, Saebra went through their training program and earned multiple certifications through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), a credentialing organization for accrediting centers and certifying instructors and equine specialists.
“It’s unique because we see the horses as a coworker instead of as a tool or something you can go to show on and win money. You have more of a relationship with the animal,” she says. “Just seeing how much a horse can impact someone is pretty neat.”
Saebra’s dedication to Horses Help and the special needs individuals they serve has parlayed into a position as program director, where she oversees the wide range of programs at their facility off the Loop 101 and Cave Creek Road.
Horses Help’s largest program is Adaptive Riding and Adaptive Horsemanship, which focuses on teaching riding and horsemanship skills, while challenging participants physically, cognitively, and socially. Geared to a wide range of riders with varying physical and mental diagnosis, this program is a recreational model where riders focus on learning riding skills, interacting with their peers, and having fun in a safe environment. The end goal of adaptive riding is to teach riding skills, how to steer the horse, give verbal commands, and work on good riding posture with PATH Intl. certified therapeutic riding instructors and/or equine specialists. Meanwhile adaptive horsemanship focuses on how to care for an equine.
“The side effect of that is therapeutic,” says Saebra. “You might see increased core strength, improved fine motor skills, and increased verbal communication skills.”
“From there, our next largest program is our Equine Assisted Learning program. That’s all on the ground and mostly for individuals in the special needs community and those with emotional and behavioral challenges,” explains Saebra. In this program, participants engage in hands-on learning that utilizes the horse as a partner in exploring positive development of communication, self-respect, confidence, trust, accountability, and conflict resolution. It’s overseen by PATH Intl. Certified Equine Specialists.
Horses Help also has two therapy models: Hippotherapy and Equine Facilitated Mental Health. Both are conducted or under the supervision of highly trained therapists and specialists.
The success stories at Horses Help are many and often leave parents and volunteers teary eyed. “We’ve had riders say their first words on horseback. If they’re non-verbal, they might say ‘walk on’ and that’s the first word they’ve ever said,” exclaims Saebra.
While the minimum age to participate in Horses Help programing is 4, it runs the gamut from there. “We’ve had individuals in their 80s and 90s who’ve done our programs,” says Saebra. “Horses Help serves a huge spectrum of physical, cognitive, and emotional diagnosis.”
The equines used at Horses Help have been donated or are on a free lease and are typically retired show horses. According to Saebra, they don’t use rescue horses because there’s an unknown history of what could trigger a reaction. “Our horses are 8 to 18 and have to be physically and mentally sound, not spooky or scared of many things. They are pretty special horses once we get them,” she says.
Horse Help relies on the largesse of companies including Sanderson Ford and Pet Club, along with reduced or free veterinary services from Midwestern University and Chaparral Veterinary Medical Center. Donations, the money Horses Help raises from a monthly tack sale of donated equipment, along with a small fee charged to participants also helps fund programing and the care of the horses.
“All of our instructors are certified through PATH Intl. and all our instructors are paid,” says Saebra, who points out that Horses Help is able to run safe and successful classes in no small part due to its many volunteers and ongoing training. “Depending on what we have going on, we need anywhere from 150 to 250 volunteers to make things run.”
To learn more about Horses Help, visit horseshelp.org.
2601 E. Rose Garden Lane, Phoenix
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