Making a Difference: Therapeutic horseback riding group helps people with special needs

5:27 PM, Apr 18, 2012   |    comments
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With the help of a horse and hard work, nearly 300 people get access to physical and cognitive therapy each year.



MANATEE COUNTY, Florida -- With the help of a horse and hard work, nearly 300 people get access to physical and cognitive therapy each year.

And for them, jumping on horseback at the Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy (SMART) feels effortless.

"They don't even realize it's physically therapeutic because it's so much fun," says Volunteer Executive Director Gail Clifton.

The nonprofit and its volunteers help people with special needs. SMART has also recently introduced a riding therapy class for veterans, and a program for people on the autism spectrum is in the works.

At the front of SMART's spacious, recently opened property in Manatee County, a sensory integration course lets riders voice commands, test their senses, and activate rarely used muscles as they weave through colorful obstacles.

"Especially for people with disabilities, they go through life with people looking down on them. But when they're on a horse, all of a sudden, everyone is looking up at them," Clifton says. "It's fun to see what a difference the horses make in these kids' lives."

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