News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Horses aid those with special needs

  • Offering people the opportunity to realize what they are capable of, GAIT Therapeutic Riding Center allows persons with special needs the chance to move beyond concentrating on what they can't do, to look at what they can do, through hands-on interaction with specially trained horses.
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  • Offering people the opportunity to realize what they are capable of, GAIT Therapeutic Riding Center allows persons with special needs the chance to move beyond concentrating on what they can't do, to look at what they can do, through hands-on interaction with specially trained horses.
    Whether riding or simply grooming a horse, founder, Executive Director and PATH International certified advanced instructor Martha Dubensky says someone doesn't have to be on a horse to gain something. As a person moves to groom a horse, she says the motions the person makes to complete the task, forces them to open their body and ultimately emotions are unlocked. People, who may not talk, will start to talk, which she says is, "awesome."
    No matter the disability, Dubensky says almost anything can be dealt with because of the horse. She explains that, when someone is on the horse, "we're all the same; it's the same playing field."
    ••• Horse's magic
    Although Dubensky has had horses most of her life, it wasn't until she started volunteering at a therapeutic riding center nearly 30 years ago, that she discovered the horse's magic. From the first time she taught a class, Dubensky says she was "all over it." This, was in part because of what horses are capable of doing; whether in a field, on the battlefield or everyday life, the horse's place in human's lives is "unbelievable," she states. The feeling Dubensky had the first time she helped someone, she says, never left her and aside from people receiving help, she also realized that horses are helped too.
    Before GAIT, Dubensky worked at another facility, but she realized that the horses needed to be carefully chosen because not all horses like therapeutic riding. She says this is partly because it's stressful for a horse to have someone on them, but also besides them and leading them. Horses, she says, are all different with some that will do anything and others who aren't sure. Basically though, Dubensky says it's about how people approach the horse that makes a big difference. The way someone approaches the animal, she says, actually tells how that individual will approach another person. By working with a horse, she says, people learn about their strengths and weaknesses.
    The key element to staying on a horse, she says is balance and so a rider has to focus on sitting upright because their center of gravity has to be over the horse's center of gravity. By a person working to balance and rebalance themselves, Dubensky says it affects the brain and so someone who doesn't speak will learn to say, "walk on," or give the horse some indication of what they want.
    ••• More than riding
    From start to finish, Dubensky says everything done at GAIT is a process. The ultimate goal is to teach riding skills, but so much more happens. Therapeutic services, she says, are a process where everyone has their own course to work through and at GAIT, that process is enhanced as the individuals are encouraged to work on their own.
    Page 2 of 3 - For people who have difficulty walking, Dubensky pointed out that the horse does it for them and so that's a huge accomplishment. More than simply riding a horse, Dubensky says the movement and emotional feeling people develop is quite something.
    For 20 years, Dubensky has been a therapeutic riding instructor and 19 years ago she founded GAIT. Recently, Dubensky completed her Masters in psychology so she can talk about both the person and the horse, rather than just talking about the horse. GAIT, Dubensky says is a place for people to find balance and seek independence because if someone can ride a horse, they can do so much more independently. The thoughts and emotions that participants have, she says are owned by the individual.
    ••• Extraordinary volunteers
    Aside from loving her career, Dubensky also credits the volunteers and staff who she calls, "extraordinary," because everyone is focused on helping people through the incorporation of the horse. Some volunteers have worked with Dubensky for 19 years and the volunteers range from being 12 years old to others being in their 80's. A volunteer for years, Susan Swalm has written a book, "A Day in the Life of a Therapeutic Horse," with information, illustrations and activities for readers to do. All of the proceeds from the book go back to GAIT. Dubensky calls the book, "very, very cute."
    Aside from being a place to help people with special needs, Dubensky said GAIT is also becoming a place for people who want to help others, who have special needs and so there are educational workshops occurring so individuals can learn about therapeutic riding. 

    Aside from Dubensky, there are other specialists who help participants with different therapies and all are PATH (Professional Association Therapeutic Horsemanship) certified.
    Recently, GAIT gained a new status as a host site for PATH onsite workshops and certified events which are meant to help the riding industry gain more PATH certified therapeutic riding instructors. Dubensky says this is a huge accomplishment because she is an evaluator and a mentor, so she is able to teach the workshop with the volunteers helping.
    ••• Meet the horses
    All of the horses at GAIT, have been donated and some are used based on what they like. Most are for therapeutic riding; if they are too old, they may only be used for grooming, but Dubensky says they will always have a job at GAIT. The youngest horse is 9-years-old, and the rest are in their 20's and 30's. Before a horse joins the GAIT family, Dubensky has an intensive screening process where she looks at the horse's temperament, size and movement. After the horse is cleared by a veterinarian, there is a period of time it will stay at GAIT to make sure it will fit in with the other horses. Then, the training process begins with some of the horses helping to train others. On YouTube, there is a video of Patrick, one of the older horses trying to train Rusty to walk through a hoop. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJg0BkBe2MY.
    Page 3 of 3 - Along with the horses, there is also a pony named Midnight who helps participants as she is used for grooming. Dubensky says Midnight is, "as good as gold," because she isn't fazed by anything and she even allows people to pick up her feet.
    Horses, Dubensky says are the most adaptable animal on the planet. Some horses can be therapy horses and some can't. All of the horses at GAIT come with a broad range of life experiences as they weren't born therapy horses. Besides their different careers, through the years they also change homes. Dubensky says she wants GAIT to be the horses' last home because they become a member of a herd. People, she says, can learn something from the horse because of how they have to change herds, yet they do so because they are flexible and, "they are really something to admire and maybe live up to."
    To learn more about GAIT which is located near Milford, visit: http://www.gaitpa.com/.
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