July 29, 2019 by HCDE-Texas
Horse therapist Stephanie Twellman spent three years working with her 9-year-old client, training him to care for and ride a horse. The client with emotional and physical disabilities now rides independently and competes in horse shows, and his maturity level has skyrocketed, she said.
Students at all four Harris County Department of Education special schools will be participating in the equine therapy programs called Self-Improvement through Riding Education (SIRE) during the 2019-2020 school year. The 35-year-old program, which began on the east coast, builds self-esteem, confidence and relationship skills for all students through feeding, grooming and caring for horses.
Academic and Behavior School West Principal Victor Keys and several students visited SIRE this summer for an introduction to the program. Students learned how to approach a horse and were introduced to the SIRE program.
“There is a special bond between humans and horses,” said Joe Wappelhorst of SIRE.
“Bottom line is horses have been bred for thousands of years to work in partnership with humans. Horses can sense our needs, emotional state and are excellent at reading nonverbal communications. To have a personal relationship, humans learn to modify actions and emotions to meet the needs of the horse.”
Students with emotional, mental and physical disabilities and troubled youth will all benefit from the equine program. Services include therapeutic riding which is individualized for each rider to meet specific life goals.
A student with cerebral palsy will be tasked with building core strength, stretching leg muscles and communication skills. Autistic students gain social skills.
“SIRE also provides nonriding sessions, usually in 4-10 weeks’ time periods to engage participants with horses for a specific purpose such as leadership skills, team building, and addiction work,” Wappelhorst said. “For many students just the work of feeding, grooming and caring for horses builds esteem, confidence and relationship skills.”
Keys looks forward to building the program into the AB School West curriculum next year and cites the benefits of social emotional learning with all populations at the school.
“The students were really excited about the program, and we look forward to learning more about horses next semester as both the students and horses get to know each other,” Keys said.