Healing Horses Therapeutic Riding Program Helps Kids Physically, Emotionally

By Harmon, Elizabeth | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 24, 2000 | Go to article overview

Healing Horses Therapeutic Riding Program Helps Kids Physically, Emotionally


Harmon, Elizabeth, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Words don't come easily to Kelsey Sundquist of Crystal Lake.

But when she arrives at Kickapoo Farms in Barrington Hills for her weekly riding lesson, her excitement is easy to see.

"Are you ready to ride, Kelsey?" asks physical therapist Monica Salazar, as she adjusts the 4-year-old's riding helmet and belt.

Kelsey's smile gets even wider. "Yeah," she says.

Her enthusiasm is typical among the 13 kids who participate in Cowboy Dreams of Illinois, a year-old horseback riding program for children with special needs.

Founded six years ago in Colorado, the not-for-profit Cowboy Dreams has been operated locally out of Kickapoo Farms. Now, organizers are looking to expand the backlogged program by purchasing some or all of the nearby land in East Dundee at Route 68 and Penny Road - land the village also is looking at for public works use, although the idea is in its infancy.

"We were interested in the area and wanted to see if there were other programs available," said Director Meggan Hill, adding that the existence of a similar program in northern McHenry County did not deter them from locating here.

"Our philosophy is that there are always kids who need us and we've had plenty of interest," Hill said.

The program provides therapeutic horseback riding and hippotherapy to clients with a variety of needs, including Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, attention deficit disorder and impaired vision, hearing and movement. The two techniques differ in that hippotherapy has elements of physical therapy, while therapeutic riding keys into issues like posture and self-esteem, said Amy Villarreal, program administrator.

Both therapeutic riding and hippotherapy, however, rely on the interaction between humans and horses to stimulate muscles and help teach correct movement to riders who might have never experienced it.

The program is geared to children ages 2 through 18 who are referred by therapists, physicians and schools.

As part of the application process, children are evaluated by a Cowboy Dreams therapist to determine their needs and goals for the program. Most begin with hippotherapy.

"It's a goal for them to graduate into the therapeutic riding program," said Villarreal.

Once they begin their weekly sessions, children are evaluated every 10 weeks and once goals are achieved, new ones are set.

"We look at short-term and long-term goals and talk to the parents, therapists and others to find out how the child is progressing," said Hill.

The program's emphasis on individualized assessment has forced it to remain small, which has resulted in a waiting list.

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Healing Horses Therapeutic Riding Program Helps Kids Physically, Emotionally
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