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Gifts Can Support New Horse Program
By Lani Jefcoat
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Horse lovers from around the state can support a new program to benefit people with special needs by donating their time, gentle horses and equipment.
The Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine has developed a therapeutic riding program called WINGS, Winning Independence, Gaining Strength. WINGS is a specialized horse-assisted activity that provides physical, emotional and psychological benefits to individuals with special needs.
"Mississippi State is the first institution in Mississippi to see the need for education and professionalism in the field of therapeutic riding. MSU is planning to offer a four-year, accredited program and is establishing a model center in the state for riding clients and training instructors," said Mary Ford, an instructor for the equine research and education unit at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona.
"People who enjoy horses usually recognize the many benefits associated with riding and working with horses," Ford said. "WINGS gives them a chance to take part in a program that can make a tremendous difference in a person's life."
The WINGS program, located in Verona, needs donations of healthy gentle horses, tack and equipment, volunteers to assist with classes and monetary donations for the completion of the arena to begin sessions at the end of March.
"The mission of WINGS is to provide a training program of therapeutic riding for instructors, to provide therapeutic riding classes for people with disabilities and to develop a research program devoted to therapeutic riding," Ford said.
Therapeutic riding is a form of hippotherapy which means "treatment with the help of the horse" and is a treatment approach for physical therapists working with patients having movement dysfunctions. The patient sits on the horse and has automatic reactions to the three-dimensional swinging motions of the horse's back at a walk.
The major aims of hippotherapy are mobilization of the pelvis, lumbar spine and hip joints, normalization of muscle tones, development of head and trunk postural control, and development of equilibrium reactions in the trunk.
"The horse is effective in therapy because of its three dimensional swinging gait that imitates the movement of the human pelvis," Ford said. "There are also the psychological benefits because of the human-animal bonding experience."
The horse's rhythmical movement cannot be imitated by a machine and does not have the same consistency in a clinic. This movement has a therapeutic effect as the patient sits on the horse's back because it provides a precise, repetitive pattern of movement similar to the motion of a person's pelvis during normal human gait.
Applications for riders are being taken for sessions that will begin March 30 and will meet once a week for five weeks at the Lee County Agricenter. For more information contact Mary Ford or Andy Loague at (601) 566-2201, ext. 214.