ALGOMA TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- The Equest Center, tucked away north of Rockford, is giving children and adults with special needs and other disabilities an opportunity to feel alive.
It's done through equine-based therapy, recognized as one of the more progressive forms of therapy that combines instruction in traditional horsemanship skills with concepts of physical, occupational and emotional therapies.
Today, more than 185 riders ranging in age two to 100 enjoy the benefits of these programs.
Anjulia Shupe and her sister Emery are both riders at the Equest Center. Anjulia has cerebral palsy and is unable to walk or stand. Her sister Emery has septo-optic dysplasia that affects her vision and behavior.
"We’re trying to build her trunk strength up," the girls' dad, Jeff Shupe said.
Executive Director Kathy Ryan says the movement of the horse helps with balance and muscle relaxation in the children. "For those like Angi learning to walk, feeling that movement of a horse helps to train the brain with how the body is supposed to move before it’s able to do so," she said.
The Equest Center offers various therapeutic programs that are especially helpful for those who are paralyzed, are amputees, or can't see or hear. The center also helps children with ADD/ADHD, cancer, arthritis, dementia, and more.
The program includes a variety of games and exercises designed to increase a rider's ability to listen, learn and communicate. "It’s a wonderful time to work on speech growth, to work on sequencing, following directions," Ryan said.
"I’m glad there’s something like this for them to do," Jeff said.
Therapeutic riding lessons are $20 for 30 minutes and $25 for 60 minutes. There are also classes for the elderly and veterans.
The Equest Center relies heavily on volunteers and donations, so this Saturday, May 6, Kentucky Derby day, the Equest Center is holding their Horsin' Around the Derby fundraiser from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. Funds raised will be used in the form of scholarships to families in need of financial support for therapy sessions, purchasing materials, equipemnt and supplies to run the program.