Just Horsing Around With Special Needs People At Minnesota’s Stable Pathways Non-profit

Imagine a situation where traditional therapies provide no relief to someone struggling just to manage daily living skills. For those with Spina Bifida, Autism, Down Syndrome, and similar challenges this is a very real scenario.

Enter the World of Stable Pathways

This nonprofit ensures individuals with cognitive and physical needs have a secure and healthy environment that is conducive to their physical health. Equine therapy and horse-assisted therapeutic activities are proven for managing cognitive and physical challenges associated with various diagnoses and chronic illnesses. Director Patti Franz notes, “I believe they [the horses] understand the hugs from their clients, the tugs on their manes, fingers tickling their whiskers — and they just know what the seemingly unintelligible whispers mean.” Stable Pathways conducts therapeutic activities with horses under the instruction of a PATH International Certified Instructor, Minnesota licensed Occupational Therapist, or trained teacher.

What to Expect: A Day at Stable Pathways

Therapeutic riding programs are offered in a variety of lessons. Group lessons are available for a way to bond with like-minded souls, while others can be semi-private or private depending on the desires of those seeking horse-assisted activities. Individuals in equine therapy, aka Hippotherapy, can anticipate an improvement in reasoning abilities and basic motor functioning with the aid of an Occupational Therapist. Programs are for riders of all ages from two years old on up.

The benefits of equine-assisted activities are far reaching, as commented by a parent about her child enrolled at Stable Pathways: “Horse therapy gives her an opportunity to participate in something within the community, which is always a struggle. Through your work, she has grown and matured in ways I did not think were possible a couple of years ago.”

The Horses

At Stable Pathways there are currently six horses that are used in programs. Poppy, Jeni, and Huey are big ponies on staff at Stable Pathways, while full-sized Fjords named Vibeke and Karl, and the newest addition of a Tennessee Walker, Somer, round out the four-legged crew. Between these six horses, Stable Pathways is capable of carrying a broad range of clients with physical and cognitive needs. However, not just any horse will be taken on by Stable Pathways.

According to an interview with Franz, “Not only are we looking for the horse’s ability to live in a unique herd environment, but they also have to be healthy, requiring no special feed or shoes. They must be responsive, but not domineering, willing to be in situations that are contrary to a horse’s instincts, and understanding of a client’s special needs.” All horses are trained in various scenarios to prepare them to handle any situation, such as a rider screaming or squeezing their legs.

The Future Path of Stable Pathways

According to the mission statement of Stable Pathways, the organization was created to “bring horses and people together in a guided and safe environment; to benefit the mind, body and soul through the quiet strength and gentle presence of horses.” Franz continues with: “Since Stable Pathways began, many clients have experienced positive changes, such as steadier balance, improved core strength, horsemanship skills, empathy, social skills, increased confidence, and conversational abilities.”

Like all nonprofits, funding via charitable contributions is crucial to the success and longevity of this program. Stable Pathways is currently hosting its equine-assisted programs at Bunker Park Stable in Andover, MN. However, through the efforts of fundraisers, such as the 2nd annual Starry, Starry Night Barn Dance on September 20, 2014, Stable Pathways raises funds for the maintenance and expansion of their programs.

To learn more about Stable Pathways, to get involved, or for ticket information, visit http://www.stablepathways.org for more information.