BY PAULA MACIOLEK, COPY EDITOR
Just 45 minutes north of Madison, Wis., a non-profit organization called Baraboo River Equine-Assisted Therapies, Inc., also known as B.R.E.A.THE, Inc., offers equine-assisted activities and therapy or EAAT for people ages 4 and up who have special needs.
B.R.E.A.THE was started in 2016 by Chris Singer and her husband when they came back to their Midwest roots after living on their southern California horse ranch. “We had five horses when we came here,” Chris explained, “and were looking for a way to give back to the community and benefit people—more than just us.”
Riders of a wide variety of physical and other disabilities can participate in learning horsemanship, both inside and outside of the barn, and get great exercise. “We have a lot of riders with autism, physical disabilities and learning disabilities, PTSD, spina bifida, Down syndrome.” Riders do not control the horse but rather helpers on the ground do. For the most part, there isn’t any kind of special equipment needed in sessions. “It depends on the rider, of course. We’ll use a traditional saddle or bareback pad, and if they’re really unable to support themselves, they have a side walker that walks on each side of them. Ninety nine percent of our riders can sit themselves.”
While participants might be excluded from sports at school because of physical or cognitive limitations, they can enjoy the inclusion that EAAT offers. “You’re not going to find them playing soccer, but we can put them on a horse and teach them how to control a 1200-lb animal, and they’re learning something and building core strength and confidence. That’s the positive reinforcement that sports have that [our riders] are able to participate in.”
Volunteers are an important part of the efforts, and Singer is always looking for people who have weekday and evening availability Monday through Friday. Help with special events and fundraisers is needed, too.
Of course, the lessons cannot happen without the horses. They need to have a special temperament that Singer describes as “pretty bomb-proof.” She explained, “they have a lot of input they’re dealing with during a lesson, so it can be pretty stressful. They have someone on their back who doesn’t really know what they’re doing, and a lot of times they can be off-balance, so the horse is working hard to keep that person on their back.”
Singer currently has six horses, and she needs three more to join the ranch for summer sessions. “To go out on the open market, it can cost $2000 to $10000 to purchase a horse. We are lucky if we get someone to donate their horse.” It’s challenging to find a horse that is of the right temperament, has the ability to do certain things such as trotting, while not having too many cost-prohibitive medical needs.
People are referred to B.R.E.A.THE via school counselors, special education teachers, parents who network with each other and share with other parents, as well as students on field trips at the ranch who go home and tell their parents. Even chiropractors, physical therapists and county health specialists spread the word about the benefits of EAAT at B.R.E.A.THE.
To get involved at B.R.E.A.THE as a rider, a volunteer or to make a donation, visit barabooriverequineassistedtherapies.org or call 608-504-2299.