When horses and humans connect, amazing things can happen, according to Amanda Sizemore, program director at the Challenged Champions Equestrian Center in Ottawa, Ohio.
Since 1997, Challenged Champions has provided equine-assisted therapies for children and adults struggling with a wide range of developmental, physical and emotional disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, brain injury and PTSD.
“No piece of equipment can mimic the movement of riding a horse,” says Sizemore. In addition to immeasurable physical benefits like trunk control and muscle strengthening, horseback riding has a calming effect and gives the rider a sense of empowerment.
The Center has 13 horses available for therapy sessions ranging from small ponies to a 16-hand tall Belgian warmblood. “The horses all move a little differently and we match clients to the right horse based on their needs,” explained Sizemore.
In addition to barns, the center has a heated indoor arena, a classroom and a sensory room. A variety of adaptive equipment ensures that every client can mount a horse regardless of their physical limitations.
Serving through Hippotherapy
Last year, Challenged Champions served approximately 300 children and adults through group and individual therapy sessions. One special program, called hippotherapy, is designed for children with sensory needs. The center’s occupational therapist provides a one-on-one session each week that includes horseback riding and time in the sensory room. The children ride the horse using a bareback pad so that they can feel the warmth of the horse and every movement it makes. Children as young as 3 years old can participate in hippotherapy. “Every day I see the benefit of equine therapy,” says Sizemore. “I’ve even seen many clients say their first words in the barn.”
In addition to their Ottawa location, Challenged Champions has a satellite location in Findlay that offers therapeutic horseback riding programs for the multi-handicapped students at Van Buren School. These students are able to come and ride for 4-week sessions during the school year with their classmates as part of their adapted physical education class. During this riding time the program also offers gross motor, fine motor/coordination activities, hands on equine activities and actual riding time.
This program at the satellite location has also offered them the opportunity to use the At-Risk Youth from the Hancock County Alternative Opportunity Center. These individuals assist participants while they are riding by side walking and volunteering during their class time. Once the special needs participants have completed their 4-week riding session, the At-Risk Youth come back and participate in their own riding session and hands-on workshops.
Challenged Champions offers all year programming. Visit challengedchampions.com or call 419-456-3449.