Healing with Horses


Using horses to help people heal, that’s the idea behind equine therapy at Trinity Equestrian Center in Eau Claire.

The center started in 2002. Today, it offers a range of therapy based programs.

Once a week, Nicholas is ready to saddle up for therapeutic riding.

It’s tough for him, but he knows he’s benefiting from it, so that keeps him coming back, said Penny Wilke.

The 30-year-old began riding at Trinity Equestrian Center in Eau Claire in 2011.

Nic has cerebral palsy. According to his mom, Penny Wilke, Nic’s main muscular abnormality is spasticity, which means certain muscles are continuously contracted.

He’s done a lot of different forms of therapy throughout his life. It’s the horseback riding that’s helped him the most retain his core strength and his ability to use his legs, said Wilke.

So when we put him on the horse, the horses’ movement simulates the same as a person walking. So that works his core muscles. Helps him keep upright, more straight, less slouching. Gives him more strength, more balance for other activities, said Lead Equine Specialist at Trinity Equestrian Elizabeth Todd.

We define equine therapy as using horses to help people heal. We’re using the horse to help people. We use horses because they have all the same emotions that people have, they can’t hide them, said Todd.

Formerly a teacher, Todd is a certified therapeutic riding instructor.

In addition to supporting people with physical disabilities, Trinity Equestrian offers equine therapy to veterans & their families and children or adults who’ve experienced physical or emotional traumas.

It’s not talk therapy so a lot of people find that by working with a horse, they can work through their issues and their traumas without having to actually talk about them, said Todd.

For some, equine therapy doesn’t involve horseback riding.

We have different kinds of therapy. We have therapy on the ground where they actually do an activity with the horse, and they work with a mental health counselor, said Todd.

For Nic, his mom says there’s clear physical benefits with therapeutic riding.

It helps him make breakthroughs and then retain what he’s able to do with walking with his gait trainer, with upright posture, posture in his wheelchair, said Wilke.

She says her son also benefits mentally.

The fact that Elizabeth has made him a so-called assistant trainer, really helps with that cognitive, social, emotional all those pieces too with him feeling a sense of worthwhile he’s also being helped. And he loves the horses. It really is an unspoken connection, said Penny Wilke.

When they’re with a horse, they become empowered, they get confident, they get skills, they learn to process, and they have a thousand pound friend. So when they’re riding they can accomplish anything, said Elizabeth Todd.

Whether physical or emotional accomplishments, they don’t come without work or without a little help.

It’s the horses as much as we would like to take credit as humans, it’s all about their healing power, said Todd.

Trinity Equestrian Co-Owner Toni Mattson says the center is always open for more people who need a form of healing. A person may qualify for funding or scholarship opportunities.

Programs for veterans and their families are free.

You can help support those programs by attending the annual horsepower for veterans motorcycle run and fundraiser coming up June 22.

For more  on Horsepower for Veterans, click here.

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