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Riding High: Kids With Disabilities Heal Through Therapeutic Horseback Riding

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Jacob Miller rides horse at Winslow Therapeutic Center (FNC)

Winslow Therapeutic Riding Center in Warwick, N.Y., has helped to improve the lives of children and adults with disabilities for more than 30 years.

"We have so many incredible letters of testimonials from parents telling us about the benefits of therapeutic horseback riding, it's just been an incredible trip," said Dotty Murphy, program director and head riding instructor.

Murphy has been working at Winslow for the past 13 years and said it's the smiles on the children's faces and the joy in their parents' eyes that keeps her coming back day after day.

"I've seen parents come up to me in tears from some of our school groups where the students are now interacting with other students and they've never done that," said Murphy. "Children that are autistic are out there leading horses and the parents are just beside themselves."

For kids like Jacob Miller, Winslow is a magical place. He's been a student at the facility for the past three years, and without this unique therapy, he wouldn't be nearly as strong as he is today.

"When he first came he could only sit on the horse for five minutes, now he is able to ride the whole hour," said riding instructor Cathe Struble. "Jacob also came non-verbal. Because of Duke (the horse) and Winslow and the job we provide for him, he can say small things like "walk on" and "whoa" and that kind of thing. So it’s pretty amazing to see him transform like that."

Transformation is what Winslow strives for. By using specially trained horses, the staff and volunteers at Winslow say they are able to help students make incredible progress, both physically and mentally.

"It's nice to see these kids out of a wheel chair up on a horse," said Struble. "You see that found freedom, you see in their eyes, you can hear it in their voice when they talk and you most certainly see it in that smile at the end of the day, which is amazing."

Therapeutic horseback riding is beneficial for kids and adults with a range of physical, emotional cognitive and social special needs.

By getting on top of a horse, the rider not only develops a strong bond with the animal, but without them even knowing it, they're improving their strength, balance and ability to focus, according to Murphy.

"For students that have low tone, it strengthens their muscles, it gives them balance, it improves fine motor coordination and gross motor coordination, it gives them sensory input" she said. "It's just absolutely incredible."

A sentiment shared by everyone at Winslow.

To learn more about this non-profit organization click here http://www.winslow.org

"It's really a blessing when you can do what you love," said Christine Tawpash, director of development. "Watching a child or an adult get on a horse and you have an immediate outcome when you see the smile on their face or they stand up a little taller and brighter and they feel good about themselves."