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Article updated: 9/21/2012 2:28 PM

Moving Picture: When horses are therapeutic

By Laura Stoecker

In March of this year, Carrie Capes opened the doors to HorsePower Therapeutic Riding at Fox Chase Farms in Maple Park, offering therapeutic horseback riding to the special needs community. Capes, a Maple Park resident, serves as the program director and is a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International certified instructor. About 20 families participate in lessons, with students ages 3 to adults. The sport is adapted so everyone can fully participate in the sport and work on goals such as speech, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, endurance and balance coordination, despite their disabilities. Capes' background also includes a degree in recreation therapy, 20 years of therapy experience and fluency in sign language.

Four years ago, Capes witnessed the power of therapeutic horseback riding with her son, Max, then 8. His developmental disability, called Complex III Deficiency Mitochondrial Metabolic Disorder, includes cognitive and hearing impairments, fine and gross motor delays and an inability to speak. Of all the different types of therapy Max had for his disabilities, Capes says horseback riding has worked best.

"It's by far the most therapeutic, motivating, fun thing we ever did for him," she said.

She saw Max blossom by leaps and bounds with the therapy, and it spurred her to become a certified therapy instructor after just six months. Within the next six months, the family purchased a horse. Now 12, Max is able to ride independently. It was this experience, which she describes as a "great journey," that motivated Capes to become a PATH instructor and eventually a co-founder of HorsePower with friend Justin Yahnig.

A lifelong horse enthusiast, Capes sees how quickly students establish bonds with their therapy horse.

"There's something magical to that horse and child partnership," she said. "They'll overcome challenges that are quite remarkable because they're partnering with their horse."

Capes has a long list of goals for HorsePower Therapeutic Riding, with the first one realized -- becoming a nonprofit organization. And through fundraising efforts, she wants children and adults who desire and have the need for therapeutic riding to be able to benefit, regardless of their ability to pay.

"We want everyone who has a need or has a desire to get in the saddle to be able to do that here at HorsePower," Capes said.

For more information on programs, visit horsepowertr.com.

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