|Trinity Standard - Local News
Stories Added - October 2008
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Local riding center marks 10th year
Trinity Standard - October 2008
TRINITY – Bringing smiles to area young people has been a major part of Betty Ann Godfrey’s life for the past 10 years.
That’s how long the Trinity woman has been operating the Shaman Therapeutic Riding Center, which provides proven benefits to children with physical or mental disabilities.
“It is my life, my joy,” Godfrey said. “Seeing the smiles on these kids’ faces is such a blessing.”
The riding center provides “hippotherapy” – a fancy way of saying it allows youngsters to build self-esteem and confidence by riding horses.
Now located near the intersection of Bette and Eva in southeastern Trinity, the riding center celebrated its 10th anniversary on Aug. 20 by taking 18 of its young clients on an overnight trip to San Antonio, which included a day at Sea World.
For many, it was the first time they had left East Texas and the first time they had been to a city the size of San Antonio.
Ranging in age from two up to 20, the riders come to the center from throughout the area to enjoy 30-minute long riding sessions.
They are all victims of physical or mental disorders that include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, mental retardation and hearing and/or visual impairments. Some have sustained traumatic brain injuries or stokes and some have learning disabilities and behavior disorders.
Hippotherapy was first used in 1946 in Scandinavia as a supplement to other treatments. Its popularity has spread and today there are about 500 therapeutic riding centers in the United States alone.
“The therapy teaches these children to pay attention and to follow directions,” Godfrey said. “It also teaches them hand and eye coordination, helps the blind with their balance and even helps children with behavioral problems.
“What it does most, though, is allow for the creation of a bond between the child and the horse,” she said. “The child sees that the horse is carrying them and they depend on it to get them where they are going. The horse also depends on the child to guide him.
“It’s a two-way street. We match the child with the horse. Soon, the child falls in love with the horse and the horse becomes theirs. It’s really marvelous to watch this process in action,” Godfrey said.
Riding also provides a form of exercise uniquely suited for disabled children.
“While they are riding, their upper and lower body muscles and joints are exercised, spasticity is decreased, balance and coordination are challenged, the range of motion is enhanced and strength and endurance are gradually improved,” she explained.
Learning to control an animal the size of a horse also helps promote self-confidence and promotes independence and a greater belief that their goals can be achieved.
When children come for their first riding session, Godfrey said they do not always immediately start riding.
While the process varies depending on the abilities and age of the child, the youngsters are first acclimated to the horse in order to lay the foundation for the bonds that will follow.
“Sometimes that process may take one or two sessions. The child will sometimes help us saddle the horse and help put it away at the end of the ride.
“We encourage the child to touch the horse so that they become familiar with it,” she said.
Any fear the child may have is alleviated until the youngster feels comfortable riding.
Godfrey explained that the children start with an adult leading the horse and another walking beside them, but if they are eventually able to handle the horse on their own, they are gradually allowed to do so.
“We’re seeing quite a few children who have suffered brain injuries of some type – sometimes as a result of crime.
“Their doctors refer them to us in order to help them get their confidence and self-esteem back,” she said.
First opened on property off Highway 94 in Trinity, the non-profit riding center was moved to Bette Street in 2000. It moved to its third location -- about a block down Bette Street -- about three years ago.
The center relies heavily on volunteer workers who turn out to assist the youngsters on their rides. Godfrey added they are always in the market for additional “God Samaritans” interested in lending a hand to a child in need.
The non-profit riding center is funded by donations and grants as well as contributions.
Those interested in volunteering or in making a donation may contact Godfrey at (936) 594-8363.