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Horse Therapy | Summer 2013 Out Here Magazine

Emily sitting in the saddle and laying across the neck of her horse - Tractor Supply Co.
Riding is not only fun, but it provides Emily Newman with muscle tone and strength.

Saddle Up! puts special-needs children ‘on top of the world’

By Noble Sprayberry

Photography by Mark Mosrie

Emily Newman, 9, goes to school on most Mondays dressed for horseback riding. She often draws pictures of her favorite pony, Gabby. And her school friends make a big deal about all of it.

Born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder, Emily often cannot participate in school extracurricular activities. After school, however, she can ride horses, thanks to Saddle Up! in Franklin, Tenn.

The organization works with children between the ages of 2 and 18, using horses for therapy to help the young riders cope with challenges such as autism, cerebral palsy, and deafness.

For a child such as Emily, the time spent with Gabby and the volunteers and staff who make Saddle Up! possible, is invaluable, says her mother Deborah Newman.

"It gives her a good feeling, more confidence," Deborah says. "Considering the emotional benefit, it's huge.
And because she has Down syndrome, she does not have a lot of muscle tone or strength, so when she's on that horse she's really having to use those muscles."

Saddle Up! is not alone. About 800 similar centers exist as part of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International, which sets standards and guidelines for the member centers.

Therapeutic riding member centers like Saddle Up! are available to most communities in the United States, says Cheryl Scutt, Saddle Up! executive director.

At her center, just south of Nashville, 188 Saddle Up! participants spent nearly 5,000 hours riding and interacting with horses and ponies last year.

Results can prove dramatic, whether through the recreational horseback riding programs or the medically-based hippotherapy, in which the natural motion of a horse's gait aids in therapy.

"You see so many amazing things happen when children and horses get together," Cheryl says. "I don't want to say it's magical, and we don't understand why it happens, but it does happen."

Results can prove dramatic, whether through the recreational horseback riding programs or the medically-based hippotherapy, in which the natural motion of a horse's gait aids in therapy.

There are, however, also tangible, physical gains.

"We have a lot of children with cerebral palsy," she says. "Riding strengthens their trunk control, improves their breathing, and ability to talk. And, it improves confidence. If you're in a wheelchair and suddenly you're on top of this beautiful animal, your whole worldview changes."

But, the effort requires hard work and money. Like many of the PATH-accredited centers, Saddle Up! depends on fundraising, much of which comes from the Music Country Grand Prix, the Nashville region's premiere equestrian show-jumping competition.

In its 25th year, the event is June 1 at Brownland Farm in Franklin, Tenn., and has donated more than $700,000 to Saddle Up!
The Grand Prix has also grown as businesses — Tractor Supply is a sponsor — added their support.

For children such as Emily, the joy provided by Saddle Up!'s volunteers and horses is tangible.

"There are days we go in to ride that's she is grumpy," Deborah Newman says of her daughter. "But when she comes out, she's on top of the world."

Noble Sprayberry, a Georgia writer, is a frequent contributor to Out Here.