Hooves to Heal

When several Marengo Community High School students went to Hooves to Heal in Marengo, they not only participated in riding activities, but they also learned job skills.

Fourteen students and six staff members from the MCHS Life Skills program went on a field trip to Hooves to Heal on April 8, 2011. The program is for students with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities, which can range from Autism, to Cerebral Palsy, to Spinal Bifida, said Alan Garrard, special education teacher of the program. The program is for students, grades freshman through seniors, and those up to 22 years of age, Garrard said.

“The Life Skills Program is more of a daily-living skills [program],” he said. “The students still continue to learn the academic end, but how it ties into their everyday lives. We do a lot more grocery shopping when it deals with math. Daily living skills, such as hygiene, personal grooming, leisure activities, and transportation out in the public, [are also taught].”

During the field trip, students were broken up into groups and were shown: the horses and how to brush and clean them; different cleanings of the pens; how to stack and bail hay; the different types of feed and which horses got the feed; the appropriate ways to attach the harnesses and saddles; and riding skills, such as weaving in and out of cones and proper form, Garrard said.

Garrard said it is his third year teaching the program at the high school. He said the program is growing, and will include eight students this year and 11 students next year. Brian Tveter, a special education aid at MCHS, said it was pretty amazing to watch the students ride the horses.

“At first, they seemed really nervous,” Tveter said. “But when they started to get going, they calmed down. They [were] really excited. It was fun to watch them.”

Patty Mozal, executive director for Hooves to Heal, said Garrard contacted her about the field trip. She suggested teaching the students job skills during the trip.

“The weather didn’t play the way we wanted it to, because we had flowers to plant,” Patty said. “But [the students] were back there cleaning the stalls; and they cleaned tack, (the equipment and all the saddles).” Before opening the center, Patty said she and her sister’s interest in therapeutic riding started as a way to help her oldest brother with Down Syndrome

“We got him on [a] horse; and he thought he was John Wayne,” Mozal said. “I kept getting further and further into it. What got me out here was that I wanted to have a barn where we could create jobs for kids with special needs.”

Patty said her goal is to eventually offer a garden.

“I want them to be able to come out and work the garden,” she said “There’s nothing better than having somewhere to go to work; and also coming here to volunteer to lead a horse. [They can] help kids that are more severely challenged and less fortunate. The kids here, like Kos and Karen, when they help other kids, they feel really good about themselves.”

Patty said her daughter, Sara Mozal, an instructor and trainer; and Sarah Wise, the hunter jumper trainer, can also help children with a disability and their siblings ride together on the same horse if they want to.

Dimitri, a student in the MCHS Life Skills Program, said he had a fun time and he helped clean the stalls and also rode the horses during the field trip. Ashley, another student in the Life Skills Program, said it was her first time riding a horse.

Damaris, also a student in the Life Skills Program, said it was her first time riding a horse as well.

“I was kind of afraid that I was going to fall off,” she said. “But I didn’t fall off. Inside, we got to put hay on the [horses’ stalls]. It was fun.” Garrard said Hooves to Heal did an outstanding job working with the students.

“They were very sensitive to their individual needs, understanding their disabilities and being patient with some of the behaviors--which [includes] not responding to you right away; or extreme distress,” he said. “We had a couple [of students] who started crying out of nervousness, but then [everyone] continued to motivate them a little. Every single one of them got on that horse and rode the horse. We’re [looking to use their] facilities for official training sites, where [students] will come here and do work on the farm as practice to build those job skills. We are extremely eager to come back out and do this again throughout the year next year, rather than just once.”

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