A new therapeutic horseback riding program in Bluffton has its inaugural participants champing at the bit for more.
All of the participants in the Silver Saddles pilot program have signed up for a second lesson cycle, and enrollment has doubled since it began in February. Now, morning and afternoon classes are being offered at the Tulifinny Preserve on Meadow Lake in Bluffton.
Guided by certified therapeutic riding instructors, the program helps riders ages 50 and older improve balance and posture. The program is said to improve many specific medical conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes. Medical authorization is required to participate.
Richard Corbett, physical therapist for Carolina Sportscare in Bluffton, said riders need to be evaluated by their physicians before enrolling, but that the program could be beneficial.
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"It is a very similar movement to some of the exercises we do, such as sitting on a physioball to increase balance," Corbett said. "In general, any kinds of low-impact movement activities may be of help for some people because maybe they would enjoy it and continue on the program."
Directing the program is Peggi Noon, who took her first horseback ride at age 2 .
"You don't have to have a diagnosis with a disability, but you have to receive therapeutic benefits for seniors to come," Noon said. "It improves strength, balance and mobility, and socialization is a big part of it.
"You don't have to have silver hair either."
Each Tuesday, four to five participants are taught to guide their horses with and without reins through a variety of exercises in a covered, outdoor dirt-floor arena almost half the size of a football field at Tulifinny Preserve. Trainers softly remind riders "heels down" and "shoulders back" to guide them in controlling the horses' pace and direction.
Silver Saddles has received Premier Accredited Center status by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. The association repohat the Silver Saddles program helps increase flexibility, muscle tone, stamina and mood. The association also said the program improves specific medical conditions including arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes, as well as improved balance, posture and social and therapeutic benefits.
Jane Cohn, 61, and her husband, Michael, heard about the program while volunteering with Heroes on Horseback, a nonprofit therapeutic riding program for people with physical and mental disabilities and the parent organization of Silver Saddles. At first it was a "little scary" for Jane, who rode horses as a teenager and had always wanted to get back in the saddle. Michael thought learning to ride with the Silver Saddles program would improve his skills as a volunteer side walker for the Heroes on Horseback program. The pair also were looking for an exercise program.
"For us, it is more of a balance and confidence-building exercise," Jane said. "We are also gaining muscle strength."
The Cohns took lessons throughout February and have signed on for another lesson cycle that began in March. Jane said she's gained more than the fulfillment of her dream and a chance to get more physically fit.
"For us, it was more than health. I am getting my confidence back being on a horse and being able to sit in the saddle without being afraid of falling off," Jane said.
Mounting up is just one part of the program. Participants also learn how to build a relationship with their horse. They are taught to retrieve their horse from the paddock; lead it into the barn where they groom it and put on the halter, bridle and saddle; and lead it into the arena.
"You are learning something about the horse. The horse gets to know you and you get to know the horse," Jane said. "It is like a bonding experience. ... You really get the whole experience. It is not just like taking a trail ride."