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Program Details


Activities Offered
  • Hippotherapy
  • Horseback Riding
Adaptive Equipment
  • Adaptive equipment available

Membership Fees
  • Fee to participate in the Program :

  • Accessible by Public Transportation: No

  • Transportation Provided by the Program: No


Equus Heals, Inc. is an educational and therapeutic enrichment program for children with a variety of disabilities, and their families. Individualized sessions, designed by a special educator, may incorporate art, music, language & or sensory-motor, goal oriented activities to address each child's developmental needs. The far-reaching emotional and physical benefits of animal assisted therapy, particularly assisted horseback riding and other horse-interaction experiences, are utilized as intervention tools, when appropriate. In cooperation with other community agencies, services are provided free of charge. Siblings and parents are actively and creatively encouraged to participate.

Equus Heals is a 501 (c) 3 organization. Established in January of 2000, Equus Heals is located just north of Spring Lake in southwestern Harnett County. Eastern North Carolina does have a few other centers that offer therapeutic horseback riding. However, according to the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), there are no others serving the Harnett and Cumberland County area, and no others with our specific focus on individualized, goal oriented animal-assisted and family-friendly intervention. In fact, according to Family Focus Community Resource Guide published by Smart Start, there are few programs of any kind in the target area that provide ongoing adapted recreational opportunities for young children with disabilities.

Among the clients, thus far, have been those with intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, stroke, juvenile arthritis, autism, language delays, learning disabilities, childhood depression and the siblings of all of these children. When individual developmental needs are considered, children with a wide range of physical, cognitive and/or emotional disabilities can benefit from therapeutic horseback riding and other animal interaction activities.

Before participating in the program, the child's physician is required to review the program summary and sign specific permission. Children who are not medically able to ride, can participate in a variety of other beneficial ways. Although our focus is on individual and family sessions, we can accommodate the needs of a small group.

The program has been designed around the NARHA Standards and Guidelines for Accreditation. These guidelines include safety precautions in regard to medical pre-approval of children for riding, selection of equipment, following of procedures and training of staff. An average 45 minute to one hour visit to Equus Heals might include any of an assortment of instructional strategies, including an appropriately assisted horseback ride in a riding ring, a cooperative game with siblings or volunteers, an animal grooming and or feeding activity, craft or music activities. Although these activities are fun, they are actually only vehicles through which to entice the child to work on his/her areas of need. We design plans for educational and therapeutic activities that go well beyond adapted recreational riding. By consulting with instructors and or parents, and adapting our equipment and instructional materials before the visit, children with a variety of disabilities are empowered to participate and learn from their experience to a much greater degree. The "fun" sessions are actually custom-designed for that child's needs, addressing development of:

  • communication and pre-academic skills,
  • bilateral coordination, dexterity, hand-eye coordination,
  • strength, balance and
  • motor planning, problem solving skils.
Books, puzzles, toys and games with animal related themes, are especially helpful with children who are initially too fearful to ride and may need several visits to adjust to the novel environment and the company of our animals. We also create a motivating and educational experience with these items for visiting children who are not able to ride. We find that planning sideline activities for children waiting their turn to ride and for siblings contributes toward a more rewarding experience for all concerned. In inclement weather, the session is often adjusted and can take place inside the barn. In our planning for each session, we try to recognize and address the needs of other members of families that include these children with disabilities. In order to empower families to rally to their challenge of raising a child with a disability, we feel that it is essential for the interventionist to step back and see the child as a member of his/her family, as well as an individual. Our most successful sessions include opportunities for siblings and parents to actively share in the barn experience. We like to create opportunities for the family members to have a role in each session, "hang out" at the barn, play with the children, interact with the animals, and with each other for mutual support. We create opportunities for children with disabilities to cooperate with their typically developing siblings, both in play and in learning new skills that involve animal interactions. At Equus Heals, they have an opportunity to see this child having fun, and being successful. They can learn from the staff members who model sibling interactions and activity adaptations that can be carried over to other environments.