When Abby Vejrosta, who has a neurodevelopmental disorder called Rett syndrome, first got on a horse when she was 4, she could do no more than lie on the horse’s back as he walked. By the third therapeutic riding lesson, Abby was able to sit up.
That was four years ago.
“Within a year, she was able to start taking steps,” her mother, Terri Vejrosta, said. “I don’t carry her wheelchair anymore because she can walk and hold my hand.”
That’s one of many stories staff and volunteers hear at Northland Therapeutic Riding Center west of Kearney. It is the reason their organization exists. NTRC serves children and adults with both physical and developmental disabilities.
“We see good progress with the kids,” Mary Jill Webber, executive director and speech pathologist, said. “The horse’s movement is the same rotational movement as a human pelvis, and kids without physical disabilities can build a bond with a horse.”
Founded in 2000, NTRC has been at its current location for a year. It has grown from two horses and two children to 17 horses and 62 riders. This year, NTRC is adding riding classes for the general public.
It takes a staff of speech therapists, occupational and physical therapists, and instructors, along with more than 100 volunteers to operate the facility. But, it is all worth it, Webber said, because it works.
“Typical therapy is in a clinical situation,” she said. “It’s in a room, not in real life. So when kids come out to the farm, it’s more of a real-life situation. We see more carryover into their daily lives because it’s more of a real-life setting.”
No one has to convince Janis Gannaway of Kansas City that riding therapy works. She has seen it since she started bringing her granddaughter, Anna Fields, 5, last year. Anna, who is one of a set of triplets born at 29 weeks, has cerebral palsy.
“Because she didn’t have enough core strength, she wasn’t a candidate for a surgery she needed to stop the spasm in her legs,” Gannaway said. “She started riding in April 2012, and she had the surgery in December. Now she can walk with a walker or while pushing something.”
Gannaway said this therapy has meant a lot to her family.
“Before she started, she couldn’t pull herself up or walk,” she said of her granddaughter. “Surgeries help, but in her case, that wasn’t even possible without riding. Plus, she loves coming.”
Another mother said NTRC has made a difference in her family, too. Billy Lueckenotte, 3, of Holt is speech delayed as a result of autism with apraxia, meaning his brain tells his body to do something, but it doesn’t do it.
“Riding has improved his coordination, which helps him sign, so he can communicate without screaming,” Catherine Lueckenotte said.
Not only do the children and their families benefit from riding therapy, but also the staff and volunteers.
“I grew up on horses, and I like helping kids,” Carol Calder of Kearney, a volunteer for six years, said. “Being a retired teacher and loving horses, it’s a good match.”
For more information about NTRC, there will be an open house from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at 13608 Henson Road in Holt, or call 808-1209 or go to www.northlandtrc.org.
Kearney Editor Stacey Hamby can be reached at 628-6010