Lander introduces program that teaches and offers therapeutic riding

March 29, 2010

Therapeutic Riding Demonstration Nancy Poston, director of Lander University's Equestrian Center, and three volunteers help rider Sam Neighbors get situated aboard a mount for his therapeutic riding session at the center.

Lander University will expand its equestrian program next fall to include a minor in therapeutic horsemanship, a form of equine-assisted activity and therapy for children and adults. Equestrian program director Nancy Poston said the new minor will allow Lander students who are majoring in other subjects to obtain special instruction in therapeutic riding.

Therapeutic Riding Program coordinator Beth Wood will be one of the instructors. She said the course will include 20 hours of instruction split between classroom lectures and work with horses and riders.

Wood has a master's degree in occupational therapy from the University of Alabama and a master's in zoology from Southern Illinois University. She is also certified as an instructor by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), which supports equine-assisted activity and therapy.

Poston is working toward her NARHA riding instructor certification, and the goal is for the Equestrian Center to qualify for accreditation by the organization.

Early in March, the center began offering services in therapeutic riding and hippotherapy to 12 clients. Hippotherapy uses the walking movement of a horse to provide rhythmic and repetitive motion that improves the neuromuscular functions of riders with disabilities. Clients do not control the horse but are assisted by three specially trained volunteers, one who leads the animal and two sidewalkers, one on each side of the rider.

Bob Bennett, 43, of Greenwood is one of the clients enrolled in hippotherapy at the Lander Equestrian Center. Hazel Bennett, his mother, said he is no stranger to horses, having started riding at the age of five. She said the family moved to Greenwood 10 years ago. "We were thrilled when we found out that Lander had started the therapeutic riding program." She enrolled him last fall and added, "He loves it."

Madge Roub of Ninety Six, one of 25 volunteers who assist at the Equestrian Center, works two days a week. She is a horse owner who rides frequently and has prior experience giving riding lessons and working with disabled riders. "I thought my experience would be useful to the Lander program," she said.

In was in the1960s that horses began to be viewed as an adjunct to physical therapy in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and, during that same period, therapeutic riding centers developed throughout Europe, Canada and the United States. Some hospitals own stables to support their hippotherapy programs.

Wood, a hippotherapy clinical specialist, was the director of therapeutic horsemanship at the Whitten Center in Clinton for nearly six years before joining the Lander Equestrian Center in September of 2009. "Therapeutic horsemanship blends my occupational therapy education and expertise with my love of animals," she said.

Wood, who owns three horses, began riding as an adult. She and her husband, Tim, are the parents of two daughters, Annabel and Makeaela.

Lander opened its Equestrian Center on the grounds of Burton Center in Greenwood last fall. Since then, 13 horses have been donated to the program.

The university will build a Therapeutic Horsemanship Complex at the center and expects to have it ready for use before the end of the year. The complex will house classrooms, offices and an indoor arena.

For more information about Lander's therapeutic riding program, contact Nancy Poston or Beth Wood at 864-388-8585.