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February 2, 2011     Indian Valley Record
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February 2, 2011
 

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Bulletin, Progressive, Record, Reporter Wednesday, Feb 2, 2011 IB REGIONAL Horse g, os00p offers unlimited possibilities Diana Jorgenson Staff Writer djorgenson@plumasnews.com Horses Unlimited is about potential: unlimited potential in the varied uses horses have provided to humankind and unlimited potential for humans. Horses Unlimited fqcuses on those members of our commu- nity who are disabled in one form or another, and provides an opportunity for them to tran- scend their limits as well, in- creasing their ability to grow, to expand, to participate and to improve their situations. The group provides equine- assisted therapy to the dis- abled in Plumas County and has been committed to that ef- fort for the past 16 years. "It's been a wonderful 16 years of recreational and sports therapy for our kids," said one of the group's founders, Lauren Sternberg. There is a difference be- tween hippotherapy, which is conducted on the back of a horse by a physical therapist, and equine-assisted therapy. In the latter, trained volun- teers work according to an individual plan customized jointly by the parent, the school and the therapist. Therapeutic hcaseback riding has physical benefits, such as strengthening mus- cles, improving balance and coordination, stretching spastic muscles and improv- ing circulation. In addition to riding, bridling, saddling and caring for a horse provides cognitive benefits, like improving mo- tor skills, visual perception and spatial awareness. Orga- nizational skills and safety awareness are also enhanced. For children with mental health issues, the interaction with both horses and volun- teers can improve socializa- tion by improving communi- cation skills, enhancing self- esteem and serf-confidence, and teaching patience and cooperation. Horses Unlimited Inc. is a member of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) and uses their guidelines and accredita. tion policies for the facility, instructors and horses.. Class sizes range from one to three students per instruc- tor and each student has up to three volunteers to assist him or her. Until a child is ready to ride with less assistance, two volunteers flank the horse and student rider and one volunteer leads the horse. The enrollment period pri- or to beginning instruction is time consuming for all. Par- ents are interviewed and they fill out a packet to identify the individual goals for the student and the focus of the therapy -- say speech therapy, for instance. "The therapist, the school and the equine instructor are all on the same page," said Susan Holms of Heavens Gate Equine Acupressure in Quincy has been treating the horses of Horses Unlimited pro bono as her contribution toward equine-assisted therapy for the disabled. Sternberg. "It's a lot of work to customize the lessons so that it actually has some ef- fect on the student." The children are fitted for helmets and boots, learn to sign in and greet volunteers. They learn to groom, bridle and saddle the horse. That alone might take eight weeks, or even 16. Other children with less stamina may be put on the back of a horse at once and begin riding with assis- tance right away. For students suffering from vertigo, it may take two or three lessons to get them seat- ed on the horse. Sternberg said that one of her ongoing pleasures is see- ing the transitions and changes in the students. One day, they cry when you put them on the horse. Another day, they cry when you take them off the horse. She recalls one student who was terrified of horses. On his first attempt to "catch" his horse, he held out his hand and the horse licked it. He was hooked. Now many years later, he continues to ride and helps train others. According to Sternberg, one of the group's primary issues is training and recruiting and then retaining volunteers: "In the past we have received grant money for training teenage volunteers and that was very successful." The 2009 grant from Plumas Bank to train teenagers, who received riding lessons in re- turn for their volunteer ef- forts, was "one of their more uplifting grants," Sternberg said. 7 Chris Retallack and Holly Sternberg were among the riders in the 2008 rideathon'held at Greenhorn Ranch. Greenhorn Ranch has been a generous and enthusiastic supporter of Horses 0nlimited for many years and usually hosts the event. Photos submitted There is a waiting list of people who would benefit from the program and who want to participate, but are prevented from doing so by lack of funding. Last sum- mer, Horses Unlimited ran out of money before the riding season was over. "Right now, our biggest challenge is funding-- like everybody else. With the state being in such a budget crisis, the first people that are going to be neglected are our chil- dren, our disabled people and way to replace her much- appreciated organizational skills and dedication to the cause. Horses Unlimited will continue to rely heavily on community support as the competition for grant dollars becomes stiffer. "What we do is fairly specific so it's hard to come up with the numbers that grantors like to see," Sternberg said.. Horses Unlimited is cur- rently mobile, operating out of the Sierra Pacific Indus- and event times. It's not ideal, but the group makes.it work. For more information, call 836-4551 or contact one of the board members: Brian Marcus, Diana MacGregor, Carolyn Hinton, Cathy Graft or Olga Johnson. Program co- ordinator Lauren Sternberg and program director Donnal Nichols are also happy to an- swer questions on the subject. Whatever challenges arise in the economy, none of these people lose sight of their mis- sion at Horses Unlimited: In addition, a number of our old people It means we tries covered,avee fair- "What we really want to do graduating sefiiors from local re goig0have to wOr:,i:;:"ou'ndsdure'W but :' is to serce people with chal- high schools have made the harder at our fundraisers, moving out dir!g weekends lenges and special needs." work of Horses Unlimited the she said. : theme for their senior projects. The high school seniors learn to understand those who have been given greater burdens in life, either by birth or by accident, and they are trained to assist in therapy by volunteers like Susie Van Ruff, occupational therapist, and equine acupressure spe- cialist Susan Holms. Mentoring local teenagers, itself a project beneficial to the community, is just a side effort, a bonus that happened while serving the population with impairments. Horses Unlimited will begin training volunteers in April in preparation for the sum- mer riding program. "Disabled people live every- where in our community," said Sternberg, "and some of them have 'hidden' disabilities." In previous years, Horses Unlimited received 70 percent of referrals from the Far Northern Regional Develop- mental Disabilities Center, which sponsored them. Thus, when the state cut funding to disabled kids, 70 percent of Horses Unlimited's funding went away. "We are living on the very generous donations from the community at large and our three fundraisers," Sternberg said. In April, Horses Unlimited holds a bowlathon in Quincy, followed by a golf tournament in May and a rideathon in September (held at Green. horn Ranch). This year, the group was t!it hard by the untimely death of the golf tournament's organizer Jody Lindroth. Members are hoping to find a Tom Gage of Quincy displays ribbons he has won participating in Horses Unlimited. He has been riding since he was 11. Program director Donnal Nichols and program coordinator Lauren Sternberg posed with Starnberg's horse, Mystique, in front of | the barn "where it all started 17 years ago." Both women are founding members of Horses Unlimited, pursuing a passion that has not dimmed with time. Photo by Diana Jorgenson Three-year-old Gabriel is learning dexterity along with socializa- tion skills as he plays with grooming tools. Each child or disabled person is fitted with a custom plan designed to suit whatever disability is being exercised, and progress is at the child's own pace. Some children may spend the Summer bridling and saddling and never actually spend much time riding, while others with less stamina may be seated directly on the horse and skip grooming and bridling altogether.