When Carrie Minor's autistic 15-year-old son, Breidon, first came to Kids & Horses, he was terrified, but not these days.
"He was so petrified, he was rigid," Minor said, "but now his confidence has grown, and his ability to work with different people and horses has grown so much."
Kids & Horses is located in Minden and serves individuals facing a broad range of challenges such as paralysis, multiple sclerosis, autism, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, stroke, learning disabilities and emotional issues. It provides leadership, operating standards, safety rules, regulations and insurance coverage and is accredited by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
Minor credits the riding center for a multitude of changes she has seen in her son since that first weekly session two years ago.
"We had to go two times before we even started just to show him, to let him feel everything new, to smell new smells and to watch. Change can be very difficult for him, but it's very relaxing for him now, and it helps with his overall anxiety," she said.
"Life can be stressful for Breidon, and a lack of control gives him more anxiety, so now he has become somewhat of an independent rider and learned control - it's very empowering. He told me he feels like that he has a connection with the horse," she said.
The program also has helped Breidon with his communication skills because he has to communicate with his instructor as well as the horse. It also has helped him with his posture and balance, Minor said, and the progress is always at the child's pace.
Kids & Horses Executive Director Alexis Hill said equine-assisted therapeutic riding, as it's called, has proven healing benefits.
"These include increased strength and flexibility, improved motor skills, speech promotion, memory and cognitive reasoning, relationship building and social skills," she said.
"This could be the only recreation they can do, so we focus on things they can do. They come in to groom and tack up the horses, and some of the first words some have spoken have been their horse's name," Hill said.
The program provides one-on-one, individually tailored riding lessons for $25 per half-hour session. Right now, there are 31 students at the ranch, and 60 percent are on scholarship, so no one should let cost stand in the way of having their child benefit from the therapy, she said.
"No student has ever been turned away from the program due to a lack of means," she said.
Hill said Kids & Horses has expanded its program for 2012 and is in need of more volunteers to assist students. Volunteers must enjoy working with young children and horses, and horse experience is a plus, but not a requirement.
Lessons at Kids & Horses run from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays. Volunteers must be 14 or older.
"So many of our volunteers come for the horses, but they stay for the kids," Hill said.
CONTACT Office Manager and Volunteer Coordinator Barbara Morningstar at 775-267-1775 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.