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Coast Hills

For some with disabilities, there's nothing like horseback riding therapy

by Amanda Hollingworth
August 02, 2018
CoastHills Credit Union community relations officer Amanda Hollingworth, second from left, presents representatives from the Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Program with a $500 sponsorship check.
From right, Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Program executive director Robin Serritslev, board member Marie Stoll (atop horse Hawk), a Riding Program volunteer, CoastHills Credit Union Community Relations Officer Amanda Hollingworth and Riding Program student Maria pose with a $500 donation check provided by the Credit Union's Community Action Sponsorship program.

Twice a week for the last 12 years, Marie Stoll travels to Santa Ynez to go horseback riding. For her it’s much more than a hobby — it’s an essential part of her health regimen.

Marie has mobility issues, and after riding, she sees a noticeable improvement. It’s easier to walk for several hours after each session. Not only that, she just feels great the rest of the day.

Marie is a student and member of the Board of Directors for the Santa Ynez Therapeutic Riding Program. Therapeutic horseback riding, or equine-assisted therapy, has gained momentum as a modern tool for treating a wide range of physical and mental health issues.

The Santa Ynez Therapeutic Riding Program began in 1990 and is accredited by theProfessional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH). Every year, they serve 300 people from all corners of northern Santa Barbara County. Most of the students are children, but a number are adults who grew up in the program, or veterans participating in the Patriot Rider program thanks to a partnership with Vandenberg Air Force Base and the local Veteran’s Affairs Clinic.

Robin Serritslev, Executive Director, explains that the benefits of the program depend on the student’s needs.

For example, those with mobility issues see improvements in their ability to walk because sitting on a horse stimulates the natural movements of walking. For students with severe limitations, such as the wheelchair bound, this movement is even more essential because it engages the core muscles they may not be using that control critical functions like breathing and swallowing.

With instructors with specialized training, the program can be tailored to fit the needs of students with conditions like visual or hearing impairments, spinal cord injuries, amputations, strokes, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, down syndrome, autism, learning or emotional disabilities. They have specialized equipment to promote accessibility, such as a lift to assist students on and off the horses.

They also have a mini-horse, named Teacup, that travels to community events and nursing homes. “It’s a fun way for people who can’t get out here to get a little horse experience,” Robin explains. Teacup loves the attention and interaction with the community, and is great with new students who have been recommended the therapy but are a little afraid of horses.

Students learn about the opportunity largely through word of mouth. Robin and the Board have cultivated partnerships with local physicians and school district staff who refer over people who might benefit.

Because the Santa Ynez Valley Therapeutic Riding Program is a nonprofit, they are always in need of donations, like the one from the CoastHills Community Action Sponsorships program. CoastHills’ $500 donation will cover about 10 rides in scholarships for students who can’t afford the full cost. Luckily, the organization also receives support from a local veterinarian and a farm supply store, so they are able to keep basic operating costs low so they can focus providing therapy to those that need it. In addition to providing scholarships, donations help out with the odds and ends that are always needed at a working equestrian center, as well as maintaining a stock of riding equipment for students to borrow if they don’t have their own.

The Santa Ynez Therapeutic Riding Program is also in need of volunteers for a wide range of activities — administrative duties, assisting the instructors with lessons, fundraising, and putting on events like their annual Cowboy Ball fundraiser. Those interested in learning more about volunteering can find more information on their website and Facebook.

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