Every week, more than 200 clients pass through the barn doors at LifeStriders. They come in all ages and with a variety of diagnoses – from spinal cord injuries to Down Syndrome; Alzheimer’s to autism spectrum disorder. Despite their differences, the horses at LifeStriders serve as a uniting force.
Make no mistake, a session at LifeStriders is no ordinary pony ride. Unlike traditional clinics, clients benefit from multiple levels of therapy, as they work with one or more of licensed therapists, three or four volunteers, and a trained therapy horse—all in the non-profit’s soothing, nature-based environment.
“To watch our clients and our horses connect is inspiring and oftentimes downright miraculous,” says Veronica Sosa, the organization’s co-founder. “Together they build empathy, communication skills, problem-solving abilities and physical strength—which clients can then apply to their personal lives, leading to healthier relationships, physical and emotional well-being, and a better quality of life overall.”
The group’s sixteen therapy horses are the key to the program’s success. “When clients help groom, feed, and care for the horses, they tap into a sense of serenity and compassion within themselves,” Veronica explains. “Their levels of aggression and agitation decrease as their empathy and self-confidence flourishes. They learn to be more patient, quiet, and still, avoiding behavioral outbursts.”
Then there’s the time in the saddle. “When clients ride, they enjoy an even more rewarding experience, both physically and emotionally,” Veronica adds. Atop their therapy mount, students improve body strength, balance, agility and mobility, and at the same time, practice communication and problem-solving skills.
“People come to us frustrated, sick, immobile, in pain,” she says. “Whatever their reason, we serve them with compassion, dignity and inclusivity, breaking down any barriers that get in the way of them fully accessing our services.”