Fort Wayne, Ind. (WANE) – “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” That abstract saying attributed to Winston Churchill speaks to a real phenomenon. Anyone with even a minute experience with the equus species will probably agree readily. Senses of calm, transparency and teamwork can be coaxed from a horse with a little direction and knowledge. Therapists who work with people who are struggling with physical, emotional or developmental challenges recognize that working with horses can open new opportunities for progress. With this recognition, a Fort Wayne barn offers services for people of all abilities using horses.
Summit Equestrian Center (SEC) was started in 2010 by Executive Director, Allison Wheaton. She has assembled a team of certified riding instructors, physical therapists, licensed mental health counselors and horses along with numerous volunteers. Each play a role in making Summit a safe place where growth, responsibility and caring are priorities.
When asked how someone with a physical disability can ride a horse, Wheaton said. “Our riders all work toward the goal of being able to ride as independently as possible. Depending on the challenge each rider brings to the saddle we have different resources to try. Some of our riders need physical assistance sitting up on the horse, some need a leader to help keep the horse going the right direction, some just need help mounting and dismounting. We have different equipment and volunteer opportunities that we use to help each individual rider raise toward their best potential.”
Progress is the goal and it’s not all physical progress. Wheaton continues, “there are emotional and psychological benefits as well.” For example “some horses require people, other horses or animals (whatever they are interacting with) to present clear expectations or boundaries for what is to be expected from them. This can show through in recognition (or not) of personal space requirements or in taking directions. We use this to help people learn about healthy boundaries because in interacting with the honest feedback from a horse you are able to practice and build confidence with consistent interaction. “Plus,” she adds, “they’re really big and you can’t ignore them.”
On the topic of things one can’t ignore is the American Mustang that Summit Equestrian Center recently adopted from the Bureau of Land Management. The purpose behind the adoption is to gentle the horse, but also to use his natural instincts and the very different disposition he has as a wild horse to match him with their new Veteran Program. Wheaton observed that “The mustangs and veterans identify with one another, having both experienced life altering changes and having highly attuned self-preservation skills. The desire to connect with the wild horse often helps rekindle the drive to reconnect with other passions in their lives. It’s an opportunity to take a risk, to invest in another being that in turn invests twofold back in you. You cannot be living in the past or anxious about the future and have an effective experience with a wild mustang. That mindfulness and being in the present is immediately rewarded with engagement from the mustang and can be used to help veterans realize when they are living in the moment. Parallels are easily made between the need for the horse to work toward being comfortable with people and a veteran’s personal desire to be comfortable interacting with people again.”
Summit offers Adaptive Riding, Hippotherapy, Equine Facilitated Counseling as well as Resilience Foundation and Centered Leadership programs for Veterans.
The barn and arena is located on about seven acres in the LaCabreah neighborhood. For more information about Summit Equestrian Center and how to get involved, click on this link or call 260-619-2700.