Racing Future is determined to inspire a new generation of fans to enjoy the sport of horse racing.

Healing horses: the therapy of riding

Healing horses: the therapy of ridingA few years ago, Jennifer Pyjas slipped into a coma after an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant.It took a year in the hospital, but Pyjas recovered and eventually moved from South Carolina to Colorado, partly because her cousin, Robyn Morgan, a long-time volunteer at the Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center (CTRC) in Longmont, knew Pyjas would be a perfect candidate for therapeutic horseback riding.
Pyjas uses a wheelchair during her day-to-day life, but that’s not an obstacle to riding. When she first started at CTRC, Pyjas used a custom saddle — what barn manager Lindsey Moloznik calls adaptive tack, with a t-bar support where the horn of a Western saddle would be — to help her balance and stay on the horse. She also started by using reins with handles to aid her grip.
This year, Pyjas won the Adult Rider of the Year Award at CTRC and can trot across the ring holding onto standard reins, supported by her volunteer team that includes a leader and her cousin as one of her two side walkers.
Since 1980, CTRC has offered a therapeutic riding program for adults and children with a range of disabilities, including Multiple Sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, stroke, developmental delays, autism and visual impairment. In 1982, CTRC received accreditation from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International; each CTRC instructor goes through PATH training for a certificate.
The program rotates throughout the year with four sessions varying in length, between six and 13 weeks. Therapeutic riding is taught in groups of two to four, while hippotherapy, which is similar to therapeutic riding, is taught one-on-one with a rider and a certified therapist.
Program director Heather McLaughlin explains that the benefits of therapeutic riding go beyond building physical strength and balance. According to McLaughlin, everyone is a rider first, “participating in an equestrian sport as an equestrian, pursuing equestrian goals. It’s just that they’re meeting all these physical goals in this case as well.”