KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — A therapeutic horseback-riding program that started operating in mid-September in Klamath Falls is providing a calming environment for riders diagnosed with developmental and other disabilities.
Solid Ground Equine Assisted Activities & Therapy Center, a nonprofit founded in 2016 by executive director Shelley Trumbly, offers two, six-week therapeutic riding programs for individuals with disabilities. A small number of traditional riding lessons are offered as well.
“They get to come for a time and take their mind off what’s bothering them, whether that’s school or whatever stress,” Trumbly said.
“A lot of them have trust issues. A lot of them have broken homes and just different things and just having a bond with the horse and the relationship is just where the therapy is.”
Riders of all ages come to the therapeutic riding program at Griffith Ranch from a variety of backgrounds, with some diagnosed with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and/or anxiety, cerebral palsy, as well as behavioral issues and/or other developmental disabilities or other mental health diagnoses.
The program ended its first fall session last week and is preparing to accept applications for the spring session, with plans for a summer camp in 2018.
“They don’t really have to come and talk about their problems,” Trumbly said. “They get to come and almost forget about their problems for a little bit of time, which kind of in itself is healing.
“… The therapy actually takes place, just in the natural rhythm, the natural sounds, all of those things are being processed through the child or the adult, and that’s in and of itself what provides the healing,” Trumbly added. “We’re just using the tool of a horse but it’s just those natural things that are actually producing the effect.”
Building a sense of security
Sensory is paramount for riders, many of whom could use a distraction from some form of trauma or other negative experience in their home life.
Riders hear the sounds like the clip-clop of hooves on soft ground. They feel the gentle bounce of the saddle as the horses’ strong legs shift their weight from one foot to the other. Riders sense the security of both feet held in the stirrups, all while holding the reins loose and upright “like an ice cream cone” as riders hold also their heads high.
The horse can sense what the rider is feeling, too, Trumbly said.
The result is a forged trust and bond tightly knit between riders, horse and volunteers that enables riders to be more focused and enjoy themselves.
“Some of the biggest things I noticed with the high-risk teens or the teens that are in foster care was when they first start . they don’t talk a whole lot, they don’t smile a whole lot,” Trumbly said. “And by the time they were done with their session, or over a period of a few weeks, several weeks, they’re usually opening up, talking more, smiling and interacting.”
Fueled by a newfound passion
Through the program, Trumbly has been able to merge her career as a registered nurse with her love for horses, and the result is a newfound passion.
“Once I learned of equine therapy, I realized a lot of the same clients I serve as a nurse could benefit,” Trumbly said. “
Trumbly started volunteering with Hope Equestrian in the Medford area in 2015 and thereafter received her certification to teach equine therapy close to home.
“I just felt like it was being able to reach people outside of the traditional environment that they’re in,” she said.
“Once I started volunteering, I was able to see firsthand the benefits that it had on those students,” she added. “I just had that passion to want to see it started in Klamath Falls.”
While participants are learning to ride, groom, feed or otherwise care for horses, or even the resident Jerusalem donkey, Elmer, their minds are given a break, according to Trumbly.
“They’re having to focus so much on what they’re being taught,” Trumbly said.
“Their concentration is so intent on what you’re saying and the follow-through, and I think that’s where their mind can be completely clear,” she added.
Riders not only bond with the horses but also volunteers who help lead participants, teach them commands and foster close connections.
Volunteers are also able to assist riders with mounting and dismounting using a platform on site and provide encouragement throughout the sessions.
“They might need social skills, they might be rebuilding trust relationships,” Trumbly said.
“It’s not that it has to be a true medical diagnosis per se, but they do have to have a referral whether that’s a self-referral or a family referral.”
Participants can be referred by family member or individuals, with a referral from a physician.
The facility can accept up to five students per year simply interested in traditional horse-riding lessons.
Trumbly’s hope is to staff one therapist on site as an avenue for nontraditional therapy.
“I think sometimes just getting out of that four walls of an office, it just opens them up and they are able to make a lot more progress that way,” Trumbly said.
The nonprofit is also planning to add more amenities, including a barn, a nearby pond, a covering for the arena and fencing, as well as additional therapy horses.
“We want to have sufficient horses so we can do the sessions without overusing one horse,” Trumbly said.
The program also offers participants the opportunity to ease in to therapeutic riding by grooming, feeding and leading Elmer the Donkey or Angel, the miniature horse.
Fundraising key to goals
The nonprofit organization held its first fundraising event in September, attracting Amberley Snyder to the Klamath County Fairgrounds. The event raised about $7,000 for the program, and the hope is to build momentum from here, according to Trumbly.
Trumbly’s hope is to continue fundraising effort to build up the program and add equipment that would allow the nonprofit to help even more individuals over the next five years and beyond.
“Our big thing right now is getting a firm foundation, getting established,” Trumbly said. “As we grow and get bigger and have the funding, then for sure we’ll be able to offer way more.”
Applications for participation in the program will be open by December for spring session, which begins at the end of April, Trumbly said.
Riders must be at least 4 years old but there is no age limit for participants, Trumbly said.