1200 pounds, three volunteers, several smiles, one saddle, a unique rider, and one happy family. The horses look normal, volunteers are happy, riders are excited, and families are thankful for the positivity and progress that comes out of the arena.
And it happens every single day at the Equi-librium Therapy Center (ETC) in Rogersville, Missouri.
At first glance, this is a standard riding arena. The aroma of leather mixed with the natural occurrence of animals and horse hair greets you immediately. The arena a 20,000 square foot fenced-in space creating a large oval filled with a thick layer of well-worked sand and dirt. Corral gates, mounting blocks and helmets create a safe environment. The American flag hangs from the ceiling. Cones, flags, and barrels provide for a fun, motivating riding experience. There is a portable basketball hoop with dodgeballs. And sometimes, they get crazy and ride backwards. What more could a rider want in a riding lesson?
Looking further, this arena is different than the average ring. There is a specialized mounting area equipped to support wheel chairs. There are trained therapists present for each session. There are special saddles with handle bars. There are three volunteers with each rider. This is not the typical riding lesson, this is therapy that changes lives.
Equi-librium Therapy Center is a 501(3)(c) non-profit organization providing accredited equine assisted therapy to children and adults with disabilities since 1995. They help challenged teens, and community members with mental health issues, autism, cerebral palsy, developmental delay learning disability, speech disorders, brain injuries and so much more.
Through their riding programs, the therapy center serves over 400 individuals reaching over 12 counties in Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas. One of those individuals is Ashley Dawn Marie Guyer.
When Ashley was born she was addicted to drugs and alcohol due to her birth mother’s substance abuse. She was housed with foster parents at two days old with her two older brothers who were later adopted by their foster parents. Through the adoption, Ashley’s journey truly began.
Ashley was born with a spinal column/brain stem disorder known as Arnold Chiari 1 malformation which if left untreated, can result in permanent muscle loss and/or death due to organ failure.
Due to her condition, she was extremely quiet from birth and calling her shy was an understatement. She was at first a little apprehensive to even get on her first horse. However, this fear went away very quickly and she soon eagerly anticipated each therapy session.
“It was not an overnight change for her but she has grown exponentially over the years,” said her father Chris. “Now the moment she gets on her therapy horse and until she leaves she is chatting away with her side walkers – even if she has just first met them!”
The only way to make all of this possible is through ETC’s massive amount of dedicated volunteers. They have over 200 willing and dedicated individuals to make their facilities operate.
One of their volunteers is Delaney O’Donnell, animal science major at Missouri State University. Through her involvement, Delaney has gained an appreciation to the entire disabled community.
“Through interacting with the clients I’ve also seen how, despite the fact that they are different than me, they’re all unique individuals with their own talents and skills.” Said O’Donnell.
Thanks to their volunteers and dedicated staff, ETC is the second largest equine assisted therapy service in the state of Missouri. ETC is one of the only PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) Premier Accredited Center in the state and is a member of the American Hippotherapy Association.
The facility houses nine trained and certified therapists, specializing in various fields including physical therapy, speech and language pathology, and occupational therapy in pediatrics and adults.
ETC also works with certified counselors for therapeutic riding programs. This helps challenged youth and individuals suffering from mental health issues.
Located on 40 acres east of Springfield, the facility includes an indoor arena with an individual therapy room, a classroom, and a comfortable viewing area for families and friends to watch sessions.
This special facility provides hippotherepy, equine-facilitated learning and therapeutic riding to increase muscle strength, relationship building, increase self-esteem, social and communication skills, and muscle memory.
A service ETC truly prides itself on is its partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project. The Walk-On Program is offered to veterans returning home to address injuries such as spinal cord and speech injuries, loss of limbs, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and others.
If you would like to learn more or contribute to ETC, their website is www.etctherapy.org.
Equi-librium Therapy Center is a special place, creating an environment where everyone can learn about themselves, grow as individuals, and appreciate the bond between humans and horses.