Riding high: Horses that help the disabled
“Look at that posture. For me it’s amazing to see how straight she sits,” Beatty said as 7-year-old Mia returned from a trail ride.
Mia, whose cerebral palsy affects both legs and her right arm and hand, wasn’t able to sit up on her own when she first went to the Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center two years ago.
Now she sits, crawls, stands and, with the help of therapists and her parents, is taking steps.
Beatty also has seen Mia’s 10-year-old sister, Megan – who has Down syndrome and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder – learn to stay calm and focused, interact with a riding instructor and give verbal commands to a horse
Mia and Megan are among the 222 children and adults with disabilities who, with varying degrees of help, ride horses at Little Bit’s new location near Redmond.
The nonprofit’s move this month from Woodinville, Wash., to the new Dunmire Stables, on 17 acres, will give it the capacity to serve twice as many riders and shorten its waiting list of up to two years.
Built on the site of a former thoroughbred facility, Little Bit’s new quarters include a large covered arena, stalls for 41 horses, a tack barn, a building with therapy rooms, lounge and office cubicles designed to look like horse stalls.
Little Bit won’t be able to increase the number of riders before next year, Executive Director Kathy Alm said, because it must first raise additional operating funds, hire more staff, recruit more volunteers and select and train new horses. The Seattle Police Department recently donated Blaze, a retired police horse, to the center.
Mia’s parents waited more than a year and a half after a physical therapist referred them to Little Bit, the largest therapeutic riding center in the Northwest.
“That’s the hard part,” Beatty said. “There’s this thing everyone says is fabulous for your child, everybody’s trying to get you in – and you have to wait.”
Little Bit was founded in 1976 by Margaret Dunlap and riding instructor Debra Powell Adams when they saw that riding seemed to slow the progression of Dunlap’s multiple sclerosis.
There isn’t much published research demonstrating – or debunking – the effectiveness of horseback therapy, said pediatric neurologist and Little Bit advisory-board member Stephen Glass.
But he has seen “absolutely dramatic” improvement in many children, and the practice has been increasingly accepted by physicians and physical and occupational therapists, Glass said.