Therapeutic Riding and Activity Center For a decade, the Elizabeth A. Howard 4-H Therapeutic Riding and Activity Center (TRAC) in West Point has been changing the lives of children and adults with disabilities. And now, thanks to a partnership with Mississippi State University’s (MSU) School of Human Sciences and Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, its impact on the community and state will be even greater. “There are many different types of therapy available, but therapeutic riding has been identified as the No. 1 animal assisted therapy children and adults participate in,” says Dr. Julie Parker, assistant professor in the MSU School of Human Sciences and director of 4-H TRAC. “We are excited about building the program to make it bigger and stronger and to reach even more individuals. We plan to begin here in Starkville and carry it throughout the state.” Offered through the MSU Extension Service, 4-H TRAC helps children and adults with disabilities bond with horses, and through that experience, they gain physical, emotional and psychological benefits. “We have a lot of children and adults who are wheelchair-bound, and when they sit on a horse, they work muscles in their bodies that don’t normally get used,” says Cassie Brunson, an extension associate and 4-H Therapeutic Riding Coordinator. “We serve children with disabilities like ADHD, anxiety disorders, autism, Down syndrome – even some who haven’t spoken in years,” says Brunson. “When a child in a wheelchair gets on a horse, suddenly they’re bigger than everyone else, and they feel in control. It helps their hand-eye coordination, balance and self-esteem.” Clients who are physically unable to mount a horse can do ground therapy with miniature horses and receive similar benefits. “They really bond with the horses,” Brunson says. “When children get out of the car, their faces light up because they know it’s their time to shine.” 4-H TRAC has 10-week sessions in the fall and spring, as well as summer camps. It served 29 clients in fall 2013 with disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy and other mental and physical disabilities. “The program not only benefits the ones who are disabled – the entire family gets involved,” Brunson says. “It’s a fun environment. We laugh and play, and parents take pictures and videos.”

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