By Jessica Carr
The Therapeutic Riding Center, within the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech University, provides equine-assisted therapy as a form of rehabilitation for people with disabilities.
Tangi Irwin, program director at the Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center, said Heidi Brady, a professor in animal and food sciences, started the therapeutic riding program in 1998 as a research and study program.
“They were using the livestock arena up on campus, and they basically just started out with just a couple of horses, $500, and a broken trailer,” Irwin said.
The program moved from the livestock to the National Ranching Heritage Center before finding a permanent home at the Texas Tech Equestrian Center, Irwin said. The Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center was built in 2010 and opened in 2011.
Texas Tech leases the land to the therapeutic riding center, but the program is not monetarily funded through Texas Tech, Irwin said. The therapeutic riding program relies on grants, private-donations, and fundraisers to run the program.
The Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center offers two forms of equine-assisted therapy—therapeutic riding and hippotherapy.
Therapeutic riding involves equine assisted activities for the purpose of contributing positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional, and social well-being of people with disabilities, according to the Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center website.
“We teach them the actual skills on how to ride a horse while we incorporate their therapeutic goals,” Irwin said. “The end result is that they know how to ride a horse.”
Irwin said the main difference between therapeutic riding and hippotherapy is that therapeutic riding does not require a therapist to be involved in the lessons but hippotherapy does.
Hippotherapy is the term which refers to the use of the movement of a horse as a treatment modality by trained physical, occupational or speech therapists to address posture, balance, sensory integration, mobility, and function in children and adults with disabilities, according to the Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center website.
“Instead of using a therapy ball, or a treadmill, or a swimming pool, they choose to use a horse as a dynamic surface to work on for that day,” Irwin said. “They use the horses movement, body heat, and everything about the horse to focus on getting their results for their therapy treatment and their goal.”
Stephanie Whitesides, a certified instructor with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International at the Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center, said she started out as a volunteer but loved it so much she decided to get certified in therapeutic riding so she could teach lessons.
Whitesides said one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is to see how the riders progress.
“It has been really awesome to see people go from ‘I am afraid of this horse,’ to ‘I do not want to get on the horse,’ to ‘I can ride this horse all by myself,’” Whitesides said.
Kelcee Lewis, volunteer coordinator and office manager for the Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center, said the riding center sees bout 70 riders a week, and the program relies on volunteers to help assist with all of the therapy sessions.
“The volunteers are the life-blood of our center,” Lewis said. “We do not have enough staff nor could we probably ever have enough staff to facilitate all of those lessons, so volunteers are vital to our organization.”
Lewis said if people are interested in volunteering, all they need to do is attend an information session, which covers information on therapeutic riding, attire, and how to properly lead and walk the horses for the sessions. For more information about volunteer opportunities, visit the Facebook page.