Donald and Beauty are a team. Every Saturday morning, the boy strides confidently into the ring to mount his horse and begin his hour-long equine therapy class. Together, the duo completes a range of activities, all designed to help Donald build muscle, balance and fine motor skills.
Not so long ago, Donald, who struggles with autism and cerebral palsy, slouched in the saddle and couldn’t hold his reins. Today, he rides for a full hour, sitting tall and using his reins to control Beauty. With Beauty’s help, Donald’s balance, gait and core strength have all improved, critical skills that will help him in every facet of his life.
Donald is just one of the more than 135 children and adults who find help and healing annually at Equine-Assisted Therapies of South Florida, a therapeutic riding center that serves those with special needs. As Molly Murphy, the organization’s executive director explains, the typical therapist’s office can be a sterile experience with its harsh lights and cold waiting rooms. While therapy in a clinical setting is important, Equine-Assisted Therapies of South Florida offers a complementary alternative.
Here, surrounded by the nonprofit’s dedicated staff and volunteers, clients pair-up with specially trained horses like Beauty to turn the therapeutic experience upside. “The true beauty of working with horses comes from the simple fact that they do not discriminate or judge,” Molly says. “Our horses level the playing field, giving individuals with special needs an opportunity focus on what they can do, instead of what they can’t.”