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Horsing around builds self-awareness with Crotched Mountain Equine Collaborative

Union Leader Correspondent

September 24. 2013 5:21PM
Using grooming as a tool for learning, students like Lacey Suter at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center hone a number of important skills. (Courtesy)

GREENFIELD — Simple tasks such as grooming and petting a horse can teach lessons and give comfort to people with disabilities, and a partnership called the Crotched Mountain Equine Collaborative brings the two together.

Three times a week, horses from the UpReach Therapeutic Riding Center in Goffstown travel to the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield to connect with clients with disabilities, said Kristen McGraw, program director at UpReach.

Three ponies named Breezy, Vader, and Darcy are regular visitors to Crotched Mountain. They come two at a time and allow the clients, who have a wide range of disabilities, learn important skills while caring for the horses.

"A lot of things horses need to survive, we also need to survive," said McGraw. "Horses mirror us humans and offer lots of opportunities for self-discovery."

Grooming the horses presents clients at Crotched Mountain with an avenue for improving coordination, motor skills and other cognitive abilities.

"There's virtually no skill you can't work on with horses," said Gwen Rumburg, an occupational therapist and member of the board of directors for UpReach.

The clients also have opportunities to paint the ponies, allowing them to express their creativity, but then they also have to bathe the ponies afterwards, which teaches lessons in hygiene.

"It's really a fun, creative process," said McGraw. "They put in hair doodads and turkey feathers and paint the horses in bright colors."

Beyond the physical skills the clients can practice with the ponies, there are lessons to be learned about fear, self-preservation, respect and responsibility, said McGraw.

"If you treat a horse without respect, he won't respect you in return," she said.

The horses also offer comfort and friendship to clients who may have trouble expressing how they feel. Often just walking with a horse around the park near the stables at Crotched Mountain can calm and sooth a client. Sitting with the horse and just being together allows the clients to have bonding experiences that may not be easy with other people.

The horses used by the Equine Collaborative are screened and have the right personality for the job, said McGraw. They're able to stay calm when there's lots going on and they're very patient.

"We know from a safety and therapeutic standpoint that we can trust the horses they use at UpReach," said Rumburg.

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