Stacy Ryder leads her students through a range of exercises that help people of all ages with disabilities improve balance, coordination, and strengthen muscles, helping those with MS to autism.
CLAYTON -- A local horse therapy barn just got a lot more local.
Reins From Above, a non-profit that offers riding classes to people of all ages with disabilities, has moved from their location on N.C. 42 near Kenly to a barn off of Shotwell Road in Clayton.
For families of children with disabilities, the weekly opportunity to go to the horse barn is something they look forward to and rely on all week, and the fact that it’s now closer to where they live means less stress.
Kim Smithson has been bringing her four-year-old son Aaron to Reins from Above for the past year. Her son has autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“It soothes him,” said Smithson. She said normally Aaron can pay attention for about five minutes at a time. “After he rides, he can go home and sit for 30 minutes and learn.”
Smithson used to have to drive 22 miles to get to the barn. Now it’s less than 10 miles away. The new location is in a peaceful wooded area, with a pond on a plot of land on Ryans Lane. It is the third spot the non-profit has used for their space, as they’ve struggled to find a place to settle in since the non-profit started in 2005. Reins from Above is there to stay, though. The board members are currently discussing buying the property, according to Dwight High, who is on the board. Right now it is being rented. He is the parent of one of the riders, a young girl with cerebral palsy.
The way that the horses move is therapeutic for the riders, said Stacy Ryder, the founder of Reins From Above.
“With each step of the horse, the rider has to counter balance, leaning in the opposite direction,” said Ryder. She said it’s just like when people walk, and they have to make adjustments to be balanced, all of the movements of the rider on the horse are intuitive. For this reason, riding the horses can improve the children’s balance. It also strengthens their muscles, said Ryder, who is specially trained to teach horseback riding to people with disabilities. Children with cerebral palsy break their tendency to bend their legs forward because they’re forced to stretch their muscles outward to stay atop the horse.
During the one-hour horseback riding classes, Ryder and a team of volunteers lead the students through a series of exercises to warm up their muscles and their minds. At one point riders straighten their legs while on the horse, lifting up and sitting down, to strengthen their legs. Then they lift their arms, one at a time, in the air, to improve their coordination and focus.
Reins From Above provides a place for people with an array of disabilities from strokes, autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, mental health issues, and behavior challenges. One of the students is a mother with multiple sclerosis. “It is good for her muscles because it wakes them back up,” said Ryder.
A mother of a 19-year-old who is a student at the barn said it has been a good way for her daughter to be a part of something. “Markie can’t play soccer or baseball, but here she is a part of something,” said Kelly Senter, of Smithfield. For the riders, they don’t even see it as therapy. For them “this is their fun time,” and it boosts their self-esteem, said Ryder.
The horse barn is a type of sacred place for family members of people with disabilities, too. Being around the peaceful environment of animals and nature, and in a setting with other parents who understand what it’s like to deal with disabilities can be relaxing.
“Even if another parent has a child with another form of a disability, we still have something in common,” said Kim.
Reins From Above is a volunteer-run facility that is “always looking for new volunteers and students” said Ryder. “It’s not just therapeutic for the students, it’s also really therapeutic for the volunteers and everyone has a reason why they do this.” Classes are $35 per hour, but riders will not be turned away for inability to pay, and sponsors can be arranged.