ASSUMPTION — Therapeutic riding is designed to give the rider a boost.
Joni Beyers of Rosemond, for example, says her 4-year-old son Ben overcomes his social anxiety more often since participating this fall in the annual Saddle Up program offered by United Cerebral Palsy Land of Lincoln. “Almost every day he talks to someone,” she said.
Conducted for the first time at Kemmerer Village after a riding center in Pawnee closed, the program also raised the self-esteem of eight youths near completion of their treatment at the facility for emotional and behavioral problems by having them help Ben and eight other riders.
One 17-year-old said he felt honored when Ben finally allowed him to put him on his horse and walk around the indoor arena with him and his mount. “I liked Bed a lot,” the teenager said. “It felt pretty good to help out.”
Amber Miller, an equine therapist with Kemmerer’s Equine-Assisted Therapy Program, said the new partnership came about after a chance meeting between her and UCP representatives at Taylorville Memorial Hospital Sept. 5 at the 2013 campaign kickoff of the United Way of Christian County.
Saddle Up took place Tuesday evenings, Oct. 8 through 29, and wrapped up Monday, Nov. 4.
“It was a real win-win situation,” Miller said. “A lot of our kids have abuse and neglect in their backgrounds, so expecting them to open up while sitting in an office is like asking someone who’s terrified of spiders to talk to one.
“The kinesthetic learning they get in our program and by helping the younger children in Saddle Up makes them more willing to face their fears,” she said.
One 15-year-old Kemmerer resident said she helped UCP children warm up to the horses by encouraging them to pet and talk to the animals first.
“This was really inspiring,” she said. “I love helping little kids.”
Amanda Tamminga, UCP children’s specialist based in Springfield, said she everything worked out well for both agencies.
“The interaction between our kids and their kids was completely awesome to see,” she said.
Charles Stobaugh, program manager for UCP Children’s Services and based in Decatur, said moving the program to Assumption made it easier for children from the Decatur area, including Ben, to participate for the first time.
Other first-timers included Journey Heath, 7, of Decatur, Chayse Webb, 6, of Pana, and Brandon Garner, 18, of Taylorville.
Journey said Betty, her favorite horse, once licked both her hands while she was giving the animal a treat. “It was wet,” the girl said.
Chayse said Legacy was his favorite and that blowing soap bubbles in the horse’s direction sometimes made her sneeze or flap her tail.
His mother, Jessica Webb, said her son loved the program and was excited to get a Saddle Up T-shirt. “Normally it takes him a while to talk, but he was answering their questions right and left,” she said.
Tracey Garner said her son Brandon gained some physical skills even when he refused to mount a horse.
“He likes to keep his feet on the ground, so he’d spend some time leading a horse around the arena,” Garner said. “It got him out of his comfort zone.”