Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Little Orphan Annie

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Little Orphan Annie

Article excerpt

The benefits of therapeutic riding and hippotherapy can be numerous and long lasting for children and adults with special needs. The connection that a child or adult with disabilities can make with a horse is evident in therapeutic riding programs all over the country. In this whimsical essay, Sarah Hyatt, who is the Equestrian Center Director at Heartland Ranch and Arena in Ringgold, GA, offers readers an interesting point of view--the perspective of a Heartland Ranch horse who participates in helping riders with disabilities make a connection with their world, develop physical strength and social skills, and just have fun. Heartland's Development Director, Bobbie Standefer, says Sarah, a lifelong "horse person," was the perfect choice to pen this heartening article since, as Bobbie comments, "I know for a fact Sarah thinks like a horse."


My name is Annie, I am a nine-year-old healthy horse with a happy life and a rewarding job at Heartland Ranch and Arena. Life for me wasn't always ideal before Heartland. I was starved and neglected, but Heartland rescued me and offered me a real life. Heartland Ranch rehabilitated me and gave me a second chance working with children who have disabilities.

When I arrived at Heartland Ranch, I was in poor health due to starvation. I was a bundle of nerves, not knowing what was going to happen, scared of being in a new place, and not knowing anyone. I was given food, water, shelter, and kindness--things that were missing in my life.

In September, I began to work with a trainer, and then started on trail rides until one day the trainer tried me out for something they called hippotherapy. (Hippotherapy is not a horseback riding lesson. It is physical, occupational, or speech therapy, which is prescribed by a physician and delivered by a team that includes a licensed, credentialed therapist.) I passed the test, and in October, I started not only offering kids hippotherapy but also began teaching them to ride for Special Olympics. I was introduced to children with special needs and instructed that I was to take care of them and be kind, willing, and patient.

After working with these children on a daily basis, I began to find my calling. I enjoyed being caught and brought in for these kids to groom me and give me treats. The children were all unique in their own ways--some had trouble getting around, some were very quiet, and some were very loud. But they were all gentle, and they were all really excited to see me and appeared to love me. Life for me became wonderful.

My typical routine at Heartland has been waking up to a wonderful, glorious meal of sweet feed and hay, being turned out on grass until it is time to earn my keep, back to grazing and another helping of sweet feed, and hay before being turning in for the night in my cozy stall.

When it is time for work, I know that the kindness and love of children and volunteers is awaiting me in the barn. I stand quietly for the children as they groom me and run about, and I watch them, especially the child who holds the treats. In every crowd, there is always a child in possession of carrots or apples! I can smell them and know that if I stand quietly and patiently, a child will rub my nose, perhaps give me kisses, or a pat on the neck, and ultimately those sweet, yummy treats. I am very careful with the children; they are like no children I have met before. …

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