Cassie doesn’t care that Harley sometimes flaps his hands or engages in other repetitive movements. She’s always patient, calm and sweet – even if Harley, who has autism, is having a hard day.
As one of the 11 therapy horses at Therapeutic Horsemanship Equestrian Center, Inc. (T.H.E. Center), Cassie is tasked with an important job – helping individuals with special needs and disabilities reach their full potential. Harley’s mom, Maria, says Cassie delivers on that mission every week. “In the beginning, he could only tolerate the sensory stimulation that came from riding for about five minutes,” she recalls. Fast forward to today, and Harley can ride for the entire 45-minute session and even participates in group lessons.
With Cassie’s help, Harley has learned to follow instructions and developed his speech skills so he can verbally command and steer his mount. He’s even learning how to groom and care for Cassie. “She’s the perfect support for Harley as he challenges himself to reach his full potential,” Maria emphasizes.
According to Miguel Sarasa, executive director at T.H.E. Center, Harley’s story isn’t unique. Since opening in 1984, T.H.E. Center has served over 16,000 individuals and their families. “We see it time and time again, how our horses dramatically impact individuals of all ages and severity of diagnosis,” Miguel says, explaining that through the activities done in lessons, students improve communication skills, social cues, sensory processing, self-confidence and more. “Seeing our students thrive and challenge expectations has taught me that nothing is impossible – life challenges can be overcome, no matter how big they may seem,” he concludes.