Who says horseplay doesn’t have benefits? Just take a look at the Southern Delaware Therapeutic Riding Center in Milton
Horseback riding has so many benefits. It’s great for working out your core and leg muscles, as well as increasing balance and focus. Most riders will tell of the relaxation and stress relief they find in a morning or evening ride. In eastern Sussex County, all these lessons and more are being explored and utilized at the Southern Delaware Therapeutic Riding Center.
Located in the charming ocean-side town of Milton, SDTR has been helping children and adults with disabilities break personal barriers and grow by interacting with and riding horses. “Within a minute of being in the saddle, you see a difference in all of our riders. It’s an incredible thing to see,” said SDTR board member and instructor Georgia Truitt.
At the riding center, students take part in sundry tasks that can include grooming and saddling the horse. They’ll also have the chance to ride around the indoor-training ring, often with a leader and two side-walkers. As they get stronger from riding, many are able to ride with progressively less assistance. Have you ever played the game H-O-R-S-E while on a horse? Well, it’s a fairly common sight at the SDTR and one of the most popular activities. Games aside, though, the main focus at SDTR is helping children and adults with disabilities improve their lives.
One rider, 15-year-old Ann Marie Perrotta, has grown in leaps and bounds over the years. Wheelchair-bound and diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Ann Marie would have to watch her brothers’ football games from her wheelchair. By working with SDTR’s certified instructors and Stormy the horse, Ann Marie
built her core and leg strength to the point that she could sit unassisted and watch from the bleachers. Small gains lead to big victories, and perhaps the biggest moment for Ann Marie came at her 8th grade graduation, where she walked (with a walker) to receive her diploma and a standing ovation.
Another longtime rider at SDTR is Sasha Hudson. Already an outgoing person, Sasha participates in the Special Olympics in several different events. In fact, when you hear an ad on the radio for the Special Olympics, you’re hearing Sasha. He even does the announcing for special events at the Riding Center. His weekly visits to the SDTR have resulted in a stronger core and leg strength and better balance. He also helps with the grooming and tacking of the horses at the Center. Sasha’s mother, Donnel Bailey, was so inspired by the change in her son, she became a volunteer at the ranch. “The reason I started volunteering was because of Sasha,” she said. “He wanted me to participate in the games with him and instructors during his lessons. He wanted me to go on long walks at the end of lessons for a cool-down, and the smile on his face just made me so happy. Then, I saw other riders and their smiles and excitement during their lessons... it was infectious, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
One of the newest students at SDTR is 11-year-old Madison Pouletsos, who joined the program in September 2016. In the short time that she’s been participating in the program, Madison’s mother, Debbie, has seen improvement in her daughter’s confidence and social skills. “She began riding with a leader and side-walkers, but for the past four months she’s been riding by herself. Last night, she trotted for the first time by herself, and on the way home, I could tell how proud she was,” Debbie Pouletsos said about her daughters riding experience. “I think this means more to her than she’d admit, and I’m so happy for her.”
SDTR is a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) and the only certified center of its kind in Delaware. The instructors who work with the horses and riders are PATH certified and go through annual certifications and seminars to learn new techniques in therapeutic horsemanship.
Those techniques will come in handy starting in the first quarter of 2018, when STDR begins offering sessions to military veterans. “It’s a different kind of experience, working with vets, because they’re risk-takers, and they’re always looking for a challenge,” said Georgia. “We can’t use the same kind of games or exercises we use for our other riders, so we’re going to try to make it as challenging as we can for them.”
The Riding Center expects to begin offering a veteran’s program starting in 2018. In the meantime, they take part in Operation SEAS the Day, which is an annual event where veterans and their families are invited to spend a week in Bethany Beach, courtesy of town residents. One of the most popular activities has been the riding program at the Southern Delaware Therapeutic Riding Center.
The benefits of horse riding are numerous and extolled. For Ann Marie, Sasha and Madison, horseback riding means much more than just a relaxing exercise. For them, it’s a liberating experience: Not only does it represent invigorating outdoor therapy, it’s also a chance to sit tall in the saddle and see over the heads of folks they’d normally have to look up at.
SOUTHERN DELAWARE THERAPEUTIC RIDING CENTER
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