Children with special needs are enjoying a program called GAITS that allows them to ride horses as a means of therapy and to improve their motor skills.
Northeast Middle School teacher Tony Jackson and her student, Levi, are reviewing the fundamental points of horseback riding. Simple commands help those with disabilities not only with riding, but with confidence and a full body workout as well.
Jackson brings a group of ten special needs children from Northeast to the Lauderdale County Agricenter every Wednesday for horse therapy. It is on this day that both Jackson, the school principal and the children's parents see a noticeable improvement in attitude and physical mobility displayed by each and every student taking horse lessons.
"We've had some students to become more open," said principal Billy Burnham. "Actually some of the students' physical movements have improved as well, so there is a positive correlation between the program and the benefit for the students."
What makes a horse such a good therapist? Both Dr. Marian Swindell, who leads the program, and volunteer Ricky Thaggard have their opinions.
"They spend most of their lives like anybody else. With everybody else controlling them and they get to control something for a while that is way bigger than them," said Thaggard. "That's just cool."
"That horse isn't going to judge them," said Swindell. "That horse is there to love them and be their best friend. They develop this unique magical bond with a horse. We don't know what it is, just that it happens."
Swindell says by performing exercises like counting out loud, riding without holding on, and moving fluidly with the horses, the students, without even knowing it, improve their strength, balance, and ability to focus.
The volunteers are now working on more exercises to improve fine motor skills, such as hula hooping while standing in the stirrups.
In Part 3, the mother of a child who has been changed by equine therapy shares her story.