CLINTON — Matthew Hastings, 17, from Newberry has been able to strengthen his muscles at an equestrian therapy riding program in Clinton.
Hastings has cerebral palsy but thanks to Palmetto Equestrian Therapeutic Riding Program and program coordinator and instructor Leigh Anne Scogin, Hastings has gone from a wheelchair to a walker.
“He’s strengthened his muscles and included flexibility and dexterity and improved his balance and coordination,” she said. “He’s a huge Newberry College football fan and he goes to all the football games.”
Hastings has been with the program since the inception in 2009, said Scogin.
The mission of the PET program is to improve the lives of children and adults with cognitive, physical, social and/or emotional disabilities through education and recreation in horsemanship, Scogin said.
Scogin is the only employee with PET but they do have about 20 active volunteers ranging from local high school and college students to retired teachers and other professionals.
Volunteers must be at least 14 years old, Scogin said, and they must also go through a training as well as a passion for working with riders or horses.
Though the non-profit organization is located in Clinton, they reach out a lot to Laurens and Newberry.
Scogin is a former special education teacher from Laurens District 56 and the program came from her search for extracurricular and therapeutic activities for children she taught.
“Parents would ask me about information and supportive activities for their children. In my research, I found therapeutic riding. I then became certified as an instructor,” said Scogin.
Scogin started part time and 2013 was her first time as a full time employee with the program. She helped get the program started those first few years while still teaching in Laurens.
Scogin is PATH certified which is the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. There are two ways to get PATH certified but Scogin said the way she took was through an accredited school for about three months.
Scogin explains that therapeutic riding improves the riders cognitive, physical, social and emotional abilities.
The lessons are dependent on the riders physical capability and basically what they are in need of.
For the more physically capable riders, they can take on grooming and tacking experience before the ride and then untack and brush the horse down, according to Scogin.
“This gives them the opportunity to incorporate horsemanship skills,” she said, “While those riders who are not as physically capable stay in the arena and utilize different activities to meet their needs.”
“Many children gain the benefit of learning how to care for animals and other people. The horse is a tool to teach interaction with other people,” said Scogin. “Many of the children identify with animals over other people. Social barriers with autism are less with animals than with other people because of the language rules. Horses act as a mediator for those with social delays. They are more straightforward.”
As far as the benefits with therapeutic riding, Scogin said, “Some can see benefits as early as the next lesson or later. Benefits can include increased attention span, improved balance, posture, muscle tone, appropriate social interaction, increased academic achievement and language and motor skills.”
“For many riders with an autism spectrum disorder, there are improvement in sensory integration and general theory of the mind as well as understanding others feelings and understanding a response to facial expressions.”
Overall though, riders can improve skills but it’s also a recreational and fun activity for them, said Scogin.
In additon to the lessons taught, Scogin also has events such as a Fall festival and summer events for when children are out of school.
Scogin has seven adult horses fully grown at the PET barn. The horses a part of the program are most often older horses who are gentler and more steady in their personality, said Scogin.
“Age and temperament of the horse is key. You want a gentle and relaxed horse,” said Scogin.
Scogin enjoys the farm atmosphere but that’s not all she enjoys.
“Even though I enjoy being on the farm and interacting with horses, what’s rewarding is seeing the smiles and growth children have made and knowing in some way, some how we made a difference in their lives,” said Scogin.
“Another passion of ours here at PET riding program is to show our riders and their families and extended communities the love of Christ. We have a higher standard and higher calling,” said Scogin.
For more information about the PET program, visit www.petprogram.org.