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Equine Therapy

Walla Walla 4-H Partners with Parent-to-Parent

Walla Walla County 4-H has partnered with the Parent-to-Parent Program for more than 10 years to provide a three-day 4-H experience for youth with disabilities. The Parent-to-Parent group provides support for families with children, from birth to 12th grade, who have developmental disabilities. Their members look forward to the 4-H camp every year and youngsters can’t wait until they are over 8 years of age and thus old enough to participate.

At camp on the first two evenings, gentle horses are provided by 4-H members for horseback riding. Participants on horseback are led by 4-H members and ride in an arena under the guidance of special education teacher, Sara Winona. Sara leads the group in simple games that help the riders build core muscle strength, follow patterns, and build critical thinking skills. One of the camp favorites is Red Light–Green Light. It can be quite challenging for youth with learning disabilities to remember to move their horses forward on green only.

The health benefits of camp are immeasurable for these campers. A few years ago, a young lady who had never spoken participated in the program. By the end of the evening she had said her first words to a horse! She was ten years old. Some wheelchair-bound youth have very restricted mobility. Through this riding program and the games that are played, they are encouraged to move their bodies and make progress with their core strength and muscle flexibility.

Other challenges these campers face includes fear. Most have never been on a horse, which can be quite intimidating. One young man this year was terrified to get on a horse but really wanted to try. It took many of us holding the horse and helping the young man but after a lot of coaxing he climbed on the horse. He only allowed us to go one step forward and then one step back at first. Later he allowed us to lead him around the mounting ramp with a helper leading the horse and several helpers on each side. The second night he was just as afraid but agreed to let us lead him across the arena to get his picture taken. His fear was a huge obstacle for that young man to overcome. 

On the third night, miniature horse–drawn carts and a petting zoo are available for the campers. Youth take turns going for a ride around the fairgrounds in the horse-drawn carts that are provided by 4-H members. While campers are waiting to take their turns on the carts, they can visit a 4-H petting zoo. 4-H members bring goats, sheep, dogs, chickens, rabbits,and cavies for the youth to pet. Many of the youth (including campers and 4-H’ers, alike) have participated for several years and look forward to this event for weeks ahead of time.

This program is one of the most rewarding events for 4-H staff and members. The joy that these campers experience spills over to all involved. It is truly a privilege to see the progress that the campers make in such a short period of time.

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Contact Us, Toll Free: 866-458-0196; Pullman Office: 509-335-2981; Puyallup Office: 253-445-4550
WSU Extension State 4-H Office, P.O. Box 646248, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-6248 USA