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Riding a 1200-Pound Horse is Therapy... It's Also Fun

Equi-Librium Therapy Center

RANDY: Today we’re visiting Equi-Librium Therapy Center, a therapeutic horse-riding facility east of Springfield near Rogersville.  If the name doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps you remember its former name, “Therapeutic Riding of the Ozarks.”  It operated under the umbrella of the Council of Churches of the Ozarks for a number of years, but when funding dried up a couple of years ago, the program applied for and received its own 501(C)(3) non-profit status and a new name: Equi-Librium Therapy Center.  Executive Director Kent Crumpley says the principles of therapeutic horse riding are at least a couple of centuries old.  Napoleon is thought to have suffered from arthritis, and he would write in his journal of feeling relief from the pain in his fingers and legs after a session of horseback riding.

KENT CRUMPLEY: Riding his horse relieved all that pressure, and the blood flow was stimulated enough to where it helped make that a little bit easier on his arthritic issues.

RANDY: Kent Crumpley says the rhythmic movement of the gait of the horse helps better define muscle tone in the rider... but there are psychological advantages to this therapy as well.

KENT: I think the biggest benefit for equine therapy, unlike any other, going to a P.T. clinic or in a school setting, is that the kids come out here and they see it as “riding a horse”—a 1200-pound animal.  They enjoy that, and knowing that they can control that 1200-lb. animal, they don’t see it as “therapy.”  They’re relaxed, because once they command a horse to walk on, when that 1200-lb. animal moves, they know that they controlled that.

RANDY: Equi-Librium Therapy Center is the only equine center in Southwest Missouri accredited by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, or “PATH.”  They work with both children and adults. Many of the clients suffer from cerebral palsy, but there are various other issued involved, including autism. Therapies include occupational, physical, even speech.  April Dodrill is a speech pathologist, vice-president of the Equi-Librium Therapy Center board, and the parent of an 11-year-old cerebral palsy patient who uses the facility.

APRIL DODRILL: Gracie is 11 and she has cerebral palsy. And she’s also completely blind, and then globally  developmentally delayed.  We’ve been with the program for nine years—the youngest age is two, and that’s about when she started.  She tends to have weak neck support, weak trunk support.  And being on the horse builds muscles through all of those (areas of the body), so that she—she’s also a walker. She uses a walker, and she’s very mobile.  So this provides the strengthening that she needs to then transfer and be able to walk.

RANDY: Now, you yourself are a speech pathologist.  What benefit does equine therapy like this have in terms of speech therapy?

APRIL: If we’re talking about language, like a lot of children with autism and things like that, it provides a lot of motivation—and a therapy that they look forward to participating in.  And when you’re talking about kids like that, motivation is half the success of the therapy!

RANDY: It takes a special kind of horse to do this sort of work.  Most of the dozen or so horses in the program are donated, and a team of certified riding instructors will observe and evaluate the animals, which then undergo about two months of training.  It’s stressful on the horses because these riders usually have poor control over their center of gravity and balance.  So every client and horse are accompanied by a therapist, a horse trainer, and two volunteers to walk on either side of the client.  Only two out of ten horses actually make it into the program.

     The Center services nine counties in Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas, with some clients traveling as much as two hours for their weekly sessions.  Eldon Schrott and his adult son Ronnie live in Green Forest, Arkansas.

RANDY: So it’s quite a trip up for you to come here for this.

ELDON SCHROTT: About 80 miles.

RANDY: What does he get out of this?

ELDON: Better quality of life.  It gives him something to do, something to think about, besides sitting in a chair looking at the floor. But I think it’s something that we can do for him to improve his quality of life.

RANDY: The Center has had a long-standing relationship with Missouri State University—many of the volunteers who work with the clients come from MSU.  And for much of their 17-year history, they used MSU’s Darr Agricultural Center.  But now they have their own facility, says Executive Director Kent Crumpley.

KENT:  (As of) December 31st of last year, this facility and 22 acres became ours in a donation.  And MSU—the Darr Center was wonderful to work out of, but we just needed more arena time because our client base was building.

RANDY: The Equi-Librium Therapy Center is always looking for volunteers, donations—you can even sponsor a horse.  For more information call 689-2206 or visit www.etctherapy.org.

Horse-riding arena at Equi-Librium Therapy Center One of the center's numerous therapy horses Physical therapist and volunteer handlers assist this young rider