Gaits to Success
This month - Daisy Mae visits a confidence-building program in Kiln that benefits both humans and horses.
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I have been trying to meet with Carolyn Rhodes, Director of Gaits to Success for a couple of months. It has been too cold and rainy to have classes but the rain gods gave us a break on Saturday morning and I was able to see some students in action.
Before I get into my morning at Gaits to Success I want to mention that we are involved with Friends of the Animal Shelter in Hancock County. My "person," Christina Richardson, is the current president. We are coming up on kitten and puppy season and as always many of them will wind up as discards.
Puppy Dog Tales
Another way we keep the numbers down is the feral cat program where we trap, sterilize and then release cats back to their neighborhood. We need more trappers as Jen has been doing almost every one. For information on how to volunteer for these and other programs contact my person, Christina at 228.222.7018 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flea season is year-round in south Mississippi and keeping them under control is a challenge and a pain. We have been using food-grade diatomaceous earth in the yard. It is safe and dries up their little bodies. I have friends who have dusted it on their pets and bedding as well. Read more about it here and as always, follow the instructions for usage.
Now on to Gaits to Success. I am dedicating this column to the memory of Peppermint Patty, a Percheron/Tennessee Walking Horse mix who worked at Gaits to Success for many years and was loved by everyone.
Drive up 603 and turn left at Dolly’s in the Kiln. Go a few miles and on the right is the sign for Gaits to Success. It sits on 10 acres and has pasturage, a barn, equestrian ring, classroom, horses, cats, and Carolyn Rhodes. This is no ordinary training facility. This is a PATH Center.
PATH stands for the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, which is an organization that serves as resource and advocate for equine-assisted activities and therapies, and the equines in this work that inspire and enrich the human spirit. According to PATH, there are more than 850 member centers worldwide, divided into regions with Gaits being in region 5, which includes Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, Africa, and the Caribbean Islands.
I checked with PATH to see how many centers there are in Mississippi. There are only seven listed: Mississippi State, Nesbit, Columbus, Burnsville, Brandon, Caledonia and Gaits in Kiln. This is a big deal and a very special gift for the Mississippi Gulf Coast to have a PATH center right here.
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Horses have been used for therapy for hundreds of years. In 1946, after cases of polio crippled children, riding therapy was introduced in Denmark by Liz Hartnel, an accomplished horsewoman who contracted polio. She was determined to ride again and her daily sessions brought back muscle strength and coordination. She went on to win the silver medal for dressage in the 1952 Olympics.
On Saturday it was breezy and cool as we drove up and parked. Three horses were saddled and ready to go. On staff this morning were Carolyn Rhodes, Director of the program, Lisa Munson, Debi Dowell-Ferris and Dimond Banks. Lisa is a physical therapist who works with children. She loves horses and is impressed by the synergy between the horses and the riders. “The way the children respond - some are over stimulated and then, once on the horse, just calm down.”
Debi was telling me that she loves being around horses and that “I have seen what happens when the rider gets that sense of trust and confidence. Once I saw Carolyn take her hand and put it over the hand of a girl who was wary of the horse, and then put both hands on the horse. I watched the child relax.”
Two parents arrived with their children. Nikki Palermo-Denoux’s son Christian, in the blue striped shirt has been coming since he was four. He is eight now. Today he was riding Levi, a sixteen-year-old horse who had been “thrown away.” He has been working with clients for five years now and is a favorite. Nikki is a veterinarian in Gulfport and she is very happy with Christian’s progress. She is also impressed with the care given to the horses and has a great deal of confidence in Carolyn.
Watching the riders with their spotters was amazing. They started out a little tentative and then you could see them relax. Riding works on the core muscles and focuses the riders. During the hour-long session riders walked over pipes, around barrels, did cognitive exercises and interacted with their horses.
Gaits to Success was started in 1991. It offers a unique approach to assist clients with mental, physical and emotional disabilities. Volunteers undergo rigorous training as instructors and assistants. I have heard from so many people who have been involved with Gaits, and who see this facility as a real treasure to support and promote. Over the years Gaits has worked with college students, 4-H and Key Club members as volunteers, and has been a location for Special Olympics and Paralympics.
I especially enjoyed watching the parents watch their children grow in confidence while riding. The benefits of riding, along with the cognitive activities, increase self-esteem, self-confidence, attention span, concentration, dexterity, auditory and visual learning, and memory. Most important to me was the happiness I saw in all the faces. At the end of the session it was time to go home. My person has become a volunteer and will start her training next week. We will keep you updated.
For more information on Gaits to Success call 228.255-5368, or email email@example.com.
Well gentle readers, keep your tail high and your feet dry! Daisy Mae