Niagara Gazette — Although Equi*Star serves people of all ages with a range of special needs, both Smith and Klinger said that lately, many of the riders are autistic.
“There’s something about the motion of the horse that helps them open up to people more,” Klinger said.
Smith related a story from one mom of an autistic son who told her, “My son is uncomfortable in his own skin, but when he’s on a horse, all of that changes. He’s a different person.”
Program director Peggy Sue Shiesley knows first-hand what a difference therapeutic riding can make for someone with disabilities. She brought her disabled nephew to an Equi* Star open house six years ago, and she was hooked.
“I came here and saw the place, and I fell in love with it. It is such a joy to be here and see the interaction between the people and the horses. With a lot of these kids, they just don’t fit in, but here, there’s no odd man out. The horse is the great equalizer. This is all about succeeding,” Shiesley said.
In addition to its horses, Equi*Star has a wooden stationary horse named Taco (in honor of its donor, Mighty Taco).
Klinger said that Taco is important because the children, especially those with cerebral palsy, can use the horse “off season” to keep their muscles limber and help them with their balance. Taco can be fitted with any type of saddle, and rocks and moves much like a regular horse. Taco is also used for children who are initially afraid of the real horses.
“There isn’t anything here that doesn’t help a kid,” Shiesley said.
Klinger explained that, in addition to riding, the children also play games and learn about how to groom and care for horses. Older students in Lifeskills classes learn skills needed to work on a farm.