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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Therapeutic equestrian program offers emotional and physical benefits

Riding in stride
Therapeutic equestrian program offers emotional, physical benefits

When Ella Smith, of Mt. Lebanon, began a therapeutic horseback riding program a year ago, the girl was hesitant to even touch a horse.

Now, 9-year-old Ella has worked up to petting, feeding and riding the horse, too, said her mom, Julie Smith.

In-Stride With Therapeutic Riding Inc., a 2-year-old, nonprofit program operating at the West Pike Run Equestrian Center in Coal Center, helps children with special needs to gain confidence and develop abilities to focus, relax and accept change while learning to ride, said founder and director Dana Flaherty, 34, of North Strabane.

Riding also can help to develop core muscles and improve stability, which often is an issue for children with physical disabilities, Ms. Flaherty said.

In-Stride began with one rider and has had as many as 12, but enrollment recently dropped to six, largely due to its location in rural Washington County, Ms. Flaherty said.

Starting Wednesday, she will begin offering additional lessons Sundays at Morning Star Stables on Ridge Road in South Park. She also hopes to open another satellite location in Eighty Four.

"Ella loves it," Ms. Smith said. "She's not been confident when doing other things and now she's extremely confident with this."

Ella is diagnosed with pervasive development disorder, a form of autism, and with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Ms. Smith and her husband, Scott, found information about In-Stride on the Internet after learning about a similar program while vacationing in Virginia with Ella and her brother, Otis, 8.

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