Thursday, October 11, 2012

Camp Cheerful Helps Kids Using Horses

I love the stories I find about horses being used in therapy for kids and adults. It's so great that people are helped by the bond they form with horses! ~Declan

Strongsville's Camp Cheerful offers kids physical, emotional strength through horseback riding

Published: Monday, October 08, 2012, 12:00 PM     Updated: Monday, October 08, 2012, 12:05 PM

Zack Farran, 15, of Strongsville, shows off his skills at Camp Cheerful's Horse Expo Sept. 13. His mother, Tonya Farran, said the therapeutic horseback riding program at the camp has built her sons' confidence and posture.

Next to the Grand Hall at the Achievement Centers’ Camp Cheerful in Strongsville sits a horse barn, but it’s not just any horse barn.

“The barn houses our therapeutic horseback riding program,” said Cory Ramsey, who runs the program, at the camp’s annual Horse Expo Sept. 13, designed to let the kids in the program show their parents what they’ve learned.

Kathy Henry, the camp’s manager of marketing communications, said the event was born six years ago, after the camp was approached by Lucky Shoes, who said they wanted to donate Timberland riding boots to all of the children in the program.

“Considering what (Camp Cheerful) does for our community, for us not to do something would be foolish, said Brian Dunphy, outreach sale marketing director for Lucky Shoes.

Camp Cheerful’s horseback riding program for developmentally disable adults and children is one of only 12 programs in the state certified as a Premier Accredited Center Program by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemenship International, or PATH. It’s run by volunteers, who are certified through PATH.

Ramsey said the classes – usually once a week and available in nine week sessions – have obvious physical benefits, like developing core strength to help with balance and posture, flexibility and hand-eye coordination. But it’s the emotional strength the program builds that really makes it special.

“It really gives them a lot of confidence, to know that they’re up there, above everybody else, and they’re doing it – they’re riding a horse,” Ramsey said.

And not only that, but some children may just find a new friend, said.

“Kids with autism relate to the horses so easily,” Henry said. “They develop that personal bond with the animals.”

Tonya Farran, of Strongsville, knows that first hand, as she’s seen her sons Zach and Nick, 15 and 12, respectively, both go through the program.

“These horses and these instructors have made such a difference in their lives,” Farran said. “It provides them with physical activity and social needs, and a sense of community.”

Farran said Nick is able to independently ride horses now, and Zack is able to use reigns.

It was clear the children were having fun, as Nick and Zack were chasing each other laughing as Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” echoed through the Cleveland Metroparks Mill Stream Run Reservation. But the parents, lined up along the fence, watching their children sit atop a gentile Quarter Horse or a Halflinger, couldn’t hide their smiles either.

“It brings happiness to my heart,” Farran said.

And Ramsey said she and the program’s volunteers get something out of it too.

“It’s extremely rewarding to watch them progress,” she said.

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