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From wheelchairs to horseback


Championship highlights benefits of equestrian therapy

May 10, 1997
Web posted at: 11:43 p.m. EDT (0343 GMT)

From Correspondent Kevin Smith

BURBANK, California (CNN) -- Saddling up is more than horseplay for participants in the 10th annual California Network for Equestrian Therapy (CALNET) State Championships.

The event is a competition for disabled equestrians, some of whom are paralyzed.

movie iconEquestrian therapy QuickTime movies
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The emotional and physical rewards of riding offers are such that there are now more than 700 equestrian therapy centers in seven states teaching riding to physically challenged people.

Because horseback riding gently moves the body in a manner similar to a human gait, therapists say it can improve flexibility, balance and strength.


Among the hopefuls in the competition in Burbank is Hope Hand of Pennsylvania, who has no feeling in her legs because of spina bifida.

But after taking up riding, she says, "I found that I did become very much stronger and was able to maintain my balance a lot better."

"I found that I did become very much stronger and was able to maintain my balance a lot better."

---- Hope Hand

Another contestant, David Grossman, has worked with the same trainer for six years to overcome his mental and physical limitations.

Riding also improves self-esteem

"David does not have an awful lot of short-term memory," says trainer Mardi Brendt. "We do an awful lot of repetition because everything has got to go through his long-term memory."


Riding can also improve self esteem. "It gives me an opportunity to compete on an equal footing with able-bodied people," says contestant Barbie Grassmyer.

Juba Wilson of Long Island, New York, is mentally retarded. He began riding four years ago at the urging of his special education teacher, now his trainer.

"I was told he wouldn't walk, he wouldn't talk," his mother, Rosetta Wilson, says. "And then I look at what he's done today, what he's doing... so we're very happy."

"I was told he wouldn't walk, he wouldn't talk... Look at what he's done today."

---- Rosetta Wilson, Mother of Competitor

It's easy to think of horses as a cause of disabilities because of accidents like the one that paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve.

But the participants in this championship see horseback riding as a healthy and exciting experience. "It is a high-risk sport," says Hope Hand. "You have to know what your limitations are."


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