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SpiritHorse Lesson Curriculum








SpiritHorse Lesson Curriculum


With the assistance of their instructor, most lessons start with the rider leading their pony, or horse, from the pasture gate to the barn. Our horses and ponies can be led from wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. Riders as young as two-years-old with disabilities lead their ponies independently. If the children are in their parents arms, we place the lead rope in their hands and they lead their pony. We encourage all to participate.

All riders assist with grooming (i.e. brushing) to the ability they have and can develop. They carry their own saddle or blanket or girth, depending upon their ability at that time, and help saddle their pony or horse. We have found that this participation becomes a very important part of the lesson to our riders. Those with cognitive disabilities learn sequencing, two step task execution, following instructions, and work-reward.

They also develop a stronger bond with their pony or horse. This develops empathy which is extremely important with our riders diagnosed with autism. The horses and ponies learn to love the children, which is evident in their gentleness. Many of our riders look forward to this element as much as they do their riding lesson. The leading, grooming, and saddling portion of the lesson usually lasts approximately 15 minutes.

Riders lead their horse to the mounting ramp and the instructor leads the pony into the ramp. At least one parent is required to be a sidewalker for their child. We require this because we believe parents are the world's expert on their child. They assist the rider up the ramp, where over time we work to have the rider become self-sufficient in mounting. This provides a greater sense of control and pride in being able to do most of the mount on their own. According to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Study, the incorporation of the parent in the lesson is the main ingredient for the transfer of the intervention at SpiritHorse to the home environment.

The ridden portion of the lesson starts with a trail ride, lead by the instructor and protected by one or two sidewalkers, depending upon the riders needs. As the lesson progresses and the rider begins developing balance, we provide exercises and riding development in a very small ring called a round pen, in which the pony or horse is controlled by the instructor using a rope called a lunge line. Over time when the rider develops sufficient balance, we begin to have the sidewalker step aside in the round pen so that the rider will develop stronger balance, and with this development, safe riding skills.

With safety being paramount, we use methods and steps designed to develop the rider's balance and horsemanship skills. It is our goal to eventually have each of our riders to be independent, under controlled conditions.

The ridden portion of the lesson is designed to last 30 minutes, with shorter times for our smallest and beginning riders, and longer times for our more advanced riders. Following the ridden portion, the rider leads the horse or pony to the barn and assists in unsaddling, grooming, rewarding the pony with a carrot (this is a favorite part) and putting away the pony.



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