The Carriage Barn: The Delight of Witnessing Tiny, Fragile Increments of Change
Nine-year-old Jared Howland beams as he rides by on No-Moe, proud as any knight on a noble steed. Walking is challenging for Jared, but on No-Moe his brain is learning how walking feels through the horse’s movement.
“Jared has Cerebral Palsy,” his mother, Donna Howland, says, “which in his case means he is spastic on his right side and has weak muscle tone. Through Carriage Barn’s therapeutic riding program, Jared has gained balance, strengthened his trunk and leg muscles, and has better use of his right hand and arm.”
Michelle Place, an Occupational Therapist with a North American Riding for the Handicapped Association certification, explains, “Jared’s brain doesn’t know how to walk. The horse’s movement teaches him how walking feels.”
“It is amazing to see Jared riding,” Donna says. “He loves horses. He loves this place.”
The Carriage Barn Equestrian Center in Newton, N.H., offers therapeutic riding and hippotherapy to help clients of all ages with a wide variety of needs: autism, Fragile X Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, effects of a stroke, Cerebral Palsy, and other neurological disorders.
Occupational or Physical Therapists and Speech Pathologists use hippotherapy to stimulate the central nervous system, improve balance, increase muscle strength and reduce spasticity. Place says, “Kids just light up when they see the horses. Many of these children have been in various therapies since birth. Here, they are getting help outside of a clinical setting.”
Horses are chosen according to their size, gait and the quality of their movement. Place says it takes a special horse to do this job. “Horses sense what this work is about. No-Moe, for instance, is so in tune with people. I’ve seen him nuzzle a crying child. No-Moe loves to be led, to have people around. Our horses have to be engaged in the work, which is harder than galloping and jumping jumps because this is mentally taxing on the horse.”
Riders spend most of their lessons inside the huge indoor ring, but also enjoy an outside ride along a quarter-mile sensory trail. Ann Miles, Carriage Barn founder, says, “Kids who can’t get out on their own can enjoy being outside, having some mobility.”
Sitting directly on the horse helps the rider feel the horse’s movement better, but can be difficult for some clients. Carriage Barn staff and volunteers help riders feel comfortable and safe. 6-year-old Tia Carmichael is bolstered by a blanket and has someone walking on both sides of her.
Because of her autism, Tia has been largely nonverbal, but after a year of horse therapy, the girl shows a deep connection to a horse named Casey.
Miles says, “For Tia to communicate ‘stop’ and ‘go’ with a horse is huge, like it would be for someone else to kick a football 80 yards. Those of us who work here share the delight of witnessing tiny, fragile increments of change.”
“Tia has only a few words in her vocabulary,” Patti Carmichael, her mother, says. “But every week when I pick her up after her session at Carriage Barn, she says, ‘Happy, happy, happy!’ all the way home.”
For more information or to volunteer:
The Carriage Barn
American Hippotherapy Association
North American Riding for the Handicapped Association