Horses and Kids – A Special Bond

 In Camelot Blog

The bond between a student and a horse can be a beautiful thing. It can also be helpful therapy. Just ask some students on the autism spectrum at Camelot of the Quad Cities.

Thanks to a partnership with New Kingdom Trailriders in nearby Sherrard, IL., students are benefiting from equine therapy.

“The therapy chosen for our students is based on each individual child’s need,” said Bill Iavarone, clinical director at the therapeutic school. “We look at the data and decide based on the student’s needs what evidence-based practices are best suited for that student to make him or her successful.”

For some students, that means working with horses. There are two different types of equine therapy programs. One is for students who have had experience with horses before. They immediately get on and ride the horse, learning how to control the animal and give it direction.

“This builds the kid’s self-esteem and independence in maintaining and managing a horse,” Iavarone said.

The other program is for students who have had no experience with horses. Called the “ground up” program, they learn how to groom and take care of the animal, saddle a horse, learn safety rules and then eventually ride the horse.

Evidence shows horse therapy works, especially for students with autism.

“It helps them to show more emotional range,” Iavarone said. “Autism is based on a social deficit above all else. A lot of students don’t typically express themselves emotionally or talk a lot about their inner-life and this brings them out. They talk about the horse. They show bonding with the animal and then they also talk to the staff member who is with them about the horse. It helps improve social functioning as well as emotional regulation.”

In short, it helps students to express themselves more. Iavarone pointed to one student with autism who also has disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. The student was aggressive and would use that aggression to communicate and as a way to control his environment. But that behavior has now changed.

“Through equine therapy he learned how to communicate with the horse, to give it commands and directions in a way that was socially appropriate,” said Iavarone. “When he was back at school he started to use that same type of control and we saw a lot less aggression, a lot more management of his emotions. So not only did the pleasure of going to equine therapy motivate him but actually going through the process taught him self-control and how to manage his anger in a way in which he could still communicate his feelings.”

The sessions at the stables run in six-week cycles. The students go one day a week on Tuesdays. If Camelot determines the student is having a positive relationship with the program and is showing positive gains they can continue. If they don’t feel comfortable or there’s not a lot of gains, the staff looks for a different kind of therapy.

“We are constantly trying to make sure we get the most impact to help students,” Iavarone said. “We appreciate the relationship with New Kingdom. They do a lot for our kids and our community and we, in turn, support them. We hope that continues for a long time into the future.”

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