Chelmsford's therapeutic horse program helps kidsBy GRANT WELKER , Associated Press
May. 11, 2013 11:01 AM ET
CHELMSFORD, Mass. (AP) — Kevin LeProhon was 3, unable to speak and with motor-skills problems, when his parents, Pam and Dan, enrolled him in a therapeutic horse-riding program at Greener Pastures that has proven successful with helping the disabled gain confidence and become more comfortable in public.
Some benefits were seen fairly early in Kevin, who is autistic. Kevin's motor skills started to improve quickly, and within six months, he began to speak. Some have been more of a long time coming after more than 10 years.
Now 13, Kevin, for the first time, was able to get his horse to canter — faster than a trot, slower than a gallop — earlier last month. It took six months of practice.
"There are a lot of factors that could be involved, but we're convinced that riding really helped with his motor skills," said Dan LeProhon, whose family lives in Oxford.
Greener Pastures, a program at Flying Change Stables on Proctor Road, has proven popular with a lot of others who have disabilities such as autism. So popular, in fact, that the waiting list is 25 people deep, slightly more than the 23 now enrolled in the program. Greener Pastures wants — needs — to expand, and it held a fundraiser last month to help cover the costs.
"We have more kids out than in," said Cheri Patron, the founder of the program. Many others have a similar problem, as parents choose to try horseback riding as a form of therapy for their children, she added.
"We all say the same thing, we have a waiting list. It's very discouraging," Patron said. "It's really a problem."
Greener Pastures, with licensed instructors, is one of about 20 such programs in Massachusetts listed with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, a national group.
Revenue from the fundraiser will go toward adding more horses at Flying Change Stables, which Kathy McDermott of Chelmsford founded 27 years ago. Of Flying Change's 33 horses, only about a dozen are part of Greener Pastures because the demands aren't easy and the horses need to have the right temperament, Patron said.
Horses, for instance, don't naturally know what to make of wheelchairs or walkers, never mind being bumped into by them. For games played on horseback, they also need to get used to basketball nets, or basketballs being thrown over their head, she said.
Training a horse for that type of environment can take six months.
Pam and Dan LeProhon are examples of the backlog of getting into such therapeutic programs.
They started looking for programs for Kevin, now in the eighth grade, close to their home in Oxford, a town between Worcester and the Connecticut border, and ended up finding Greener Pastures, about a 45-minute drive in each direction.
The LeProhons make the trip every Sunday.
"It's part of our routine now," Dan LeProhon said.