Maya Adams, 12, of Cartersville, daughter of Melissa Adams, has been riding at the facility under riding instructor Kristen Moreland for two years.
Maya received a gold medal in showmanship, silver in dressage, bronze in equitation and silver in working trails.
She has epilepsy and learning disabilities. Therapeutic horsemanship has improved her confidence, balance and memory, according to her mother.
“She started coming for occupational and speech therapy,” Melissa Adams said. “Her therapist suggested she start doing the hippotherapy [horse therapy]. She responded so well to the horses that she recommended she do the riding.”
Adams said Maya has spatial awareness issues and especially has a hard time maintaining her balance.
“The rhythm of the horse has made her more aware of herself,” said the mother as she watched her daughter learn a new dressage test — a test used in horse shows that shows the judges the rider is competent on a horse.
Each rider is required to memorize their own dressage test for all horse shows, including the Special Olympics. Riders compete in horse shows with non-disabled children throughout the year, as well.
Riders also learn to groom and tack their own horses and also have to clean the stalls.
“She even likes mucking the stalls,” Adams said.
Adams and Moreland both agree that this kind of therapy is more enjoyable and lasting for children with disabilities.
“There are ways to address these issues in a clinical setting, but they fight it,” Adams said. “Here, it’s not work, it’s fun.”
Moreland said many children with disabilities see therapy in the same way adults see working out.
“Kids get burned out on working out,” she said. “This is fun, and it makes therapy not so torturous. They benefit from the movement of the horse.”
Moreland said the non-profit farm raised about $5,000 to help the riders and their families attend the Special Olympics.
It has about 15 therapy horses which are used for hippotherapy and therapeutic horsemanship.