A Parent’s Perspective of H.O.P.E’s Horse Therapies

Rhonda Riley

CULLMAN – I have written several articles over the past year about H.O.P.E Therapy and the services they provide, but have not had the chance to speak on my firsthand experience. As the parent of an autistic child, I understand the value of great therapy, and the impact it can have on any child with special needs. I knew the therapy offered by H.O.P.E. would be good for my son, but the implications were much larger than I had even anticipated.

My son’s first session was, to say the least, incredible. The moment he saw the horses he was excited and eager to participate. He has always had an affinity for animals and because of that, this therapy was a perfect match for him. For kids who may not be so keen to horses, there are still plenty of exercises to do without the horse, that will give your little one time to acclimate. 

I was pleased to find how gentle and patient all of the horses are with the kids.

Even with my son enthusiastically jumping and yelling around the horse, he never flinched or showed any sign of annoyance. The volunteers were also something special as each one of them treated my son with something that can be difficult to find – normalcy.

While the instructor and other volunteers know the challenges the kids’ face, they never once give the child they are working with any indication that they aren’t capable of moving mountains.

With a lot of understanding, they walked the small tightrope between understanding my child’s limitations and not making him feel different.

This was a spectacular thing to see as my own son gained a new level of confidence. Sitting straight, hands firmly gripping the reins, he rode with a glee I have rarely seen in him. 

Perhaps the best part of the program from a parent’s perspective is the amount of therapies your child receives. Speech therapy is one, as the instructor asked my son to say the commands to get the horse to start and stop.

Physical and occupational therapy are also combined into the hour session, as riders are asked to throw, stretch, bend and more to strengthen and tone muscles.

Lastly, my son is also able to reinforce some school lessons as some “games” in the program required him to identify shapes and colors. Sensory integration, which is huge for him, is also a part of the lesson plans with sensory trails set up throughout the facilities.

There is almost too much to list, but the staff at H.O.P.E and the facilities offer a unique and enjoyable experience. I have been so impressed with their work that I talk about them all the time. I know some will begin to think I am getting paid to do so. The truth is that I am simply a special needs mother who is overjoyed that her son gets to participate in an activity that he thoroughly enjoys and will truly benefit from.