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Change in plan opens center to all

December 07, 1998

Star Equestrian CenterBy KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




CEARFOSS - When The Anita Lynne Home Inc. purchased an adjacent farm on Broadfording Church Road about 14 years ago, the intent was to use it for a therapeutic riding program, said executive director Sharon C. Landis.

In mid-September, the dream of starting such a program at the Cearfoss home for adults with developmental disabilities was finally realized with the opening of Star Equestrian Center, Landis said.

Over the years, the plan was altered.

The center - open to the public as well as Anita Lynne residents - isn't on the original farm property but on a piece of property fronting Greencastle Pike that the home purchased two years ago, Landis said.

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It's more visible and accessible than the original site, which ties in with Star Equestrian Center's community focus, she said.

The community helped make the center a reality, from supporting the $200,000 building project to supplying 14 donated horses and about 40 volunteers, Landis said.

The salary for Ginny Gaylor, director of the center and the only paid employee, is the result of fund raising, she said, though the goal is for the center's operation to pay all of its expenses including Gaylor's salary.

The center is off to a strong start with 28 riders, including 12 Anita Lynne residents, Gaylor said.

There are riders with and without disabilities, both children and adults, she said. The sames goes for volunteers - they are a mix of those disabled and not and as young as 10.

The value of therapeutic riding has been realized in Europe for more than 50 years, though it reached the United States only about 25 years ago, Gaylor said.

There are numerous therapeutic riding centers in the country now, she said. As they all have the goal of helping people, there's a lot of sharing of techniques among them.

Therapeutic riding is very individualized, Gaylor said.

What a rider will do, what kind of horse they'll ride, what saddle it will wear and whether they take individual or group lessons all depend on the person's abilities, disabilities and therapeutic goals, she said.

A first-time rider is given an in-depth assessment, Gaylor said.

Among different possible goals are learning to ride, working on balance, working on range of motion, strengthening muscles, relaxing muscles, socialization and pure recreation, she said.

Probably the biggest physical benefit of horseback riding is that it causes the rider's body to move in a three-dimensional realm, making the same muscles move the same way as in walking, Gaylor said.

It's something a therapist in a clinical setting can't replicate, she said.

For someone who is paralyzed, the stimulation could help the brain find other nerve pathways for impulses to travel so as to regain movement, Gaylor said.

You use different kinds of horses for different needs, she said.

For example, someone paralyzed from the waist down whose goal is to learn to walk again would be put on a horse with a long stride and lots of movement, Gaylor said.

The rider's hands would touch the saddle, causing a lot of nerve sensations to move in different directions in the body, she said.

Someone with cerebral palsy would be put on a horse with smooth, consistent movement that would cause the muscles to warm up, lengthen and relax, she said.

With disabled riders, whether a lesson is private, semi-private or group, could be decided by the disability or by the rider's goals, Gaylor said.

For example, an autistic person who does better with minimized confusion would be given a private lesson, she said.

On the other end of the spectrum, you'll have a developmentally disabled rider who likes the social aspect of group lessons, she said.

The amount of one-on-one help a rider receives depends on their ability, Gaylor said.

During the lesson, a rider can have as many as three people around them - a specially trained leader, who is responsible for how the horse moves, and two side aides, who are there to lend support, balance and instructional prompts, she said.

Safety is a priority at the center, Gaylor said.

Students and volunteers are trained in horse behavior and safety, and helmets are required during all contact with the horses, she said.

While the center is a reality, the dreaming is far from over, Gaylor said.

A short-term goal is to recruit enough qualified volunteers available in the day to start offering daytime lessons, she said.

Another goal is to find a licensed physical therapist willing to invest the time in specialized training to provide "hippotherapy" - the medical term for physical therapy using a horse - to meet a physician's prescription, Gaylor said.

At some point, they'd like to add an outdoor arena and riding trails around the property, she said.

Call Gaylor at 301-791-6222 for more information.

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