October 10, 2012–The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl) applauded Ann Romney and paralympian Rebecca Hart, who helped equine-assisted activities and therapies take center stage today. Mrs. Romney, who was a guest host of ABC’s “Good Morning America” this morning, spoke about her depression after receiving the diagnosis 14 years ago that she had muscular sclerosis.
“I was very, very weak and very much worried about my life, thinking I was going to be in a wheelchair,” she said. “Since I turned to horses, my life has been dramatically different. They gave me energy and passion when I was so sick that I didn’t think I’d ever want to get out of bed.”
Mrs. Romney stood in New York’s Times Square petting Paralympic horse Lord Ludger while five-time National Champion Para-equestrian Rebecca Hart discussed how equine therapy helped keep her out of a wheelchair.
Hart, who was diagnosed when she was two years old with familial spastic paraplegia, spoke about how therapeutic horsemanship has helped her muscle memory and strength and given her a sense of freedom and vitality. When asked what she would have done without equine therapy, she said that it has given her mobility; without it she would be in a wheelchair.
Hart and Lord Ludger competed on the U.S. Para-equestrian Team in the 2012 Paralympic Games this summer.
“It’s so extraordinary, what horses do for us,” Mrs. Romney said. “For me, it’s balance, it’s love, it’s joy. Look at what they’re doing for so many other people right now. We have wounded vets coming home and they’re turning to horses for therapy. We have kids with autism, Asperger’s. They get on a horse, and all of sudden, their lives change; they become strong and confident. Horses are a gift from God–and they’re a partner in our life journey. They can bring such joy.”
At PATH Intl., the certified professionals, volunteers, participants and families can attest to the power of the equine to change lives, physically and emotionally. Though therapeutic riding is sometimes seen as a “high-end” sport, the reality is that participants come from all economic brackets, and most PATH Intl. centers are non-profits. Many of the horses used by PATH Intl. centers are older horses that have been donated after their careers on the track, in the show ring or on the ranch have ended. In their “second careers” they become gentle partners with riders who are striving to manage their disabilities.
The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), formerly NARHA, was formed in 1969 to promote equine-assisted activities and therapies for individuals with special needs. At more than 800 member centers, nearly 48,000 children and adults find a sense of independence through involvement with horses. These member centers range from small, one-person programs to large operations with several certified instructors and licensed therapists. In addition to therapeutic equitation, a center may offer any number of equine-assisted activities including hippotherapy, equine-facilitated mental health, driving, interactive vaulting, trail riding, competition, ground work or stable management. Through a wide variety of educational resources, the association helps individuals start and maintain successful equine-assisted activities and therapies for individuals with special needs. There are more than 44,700 volunteers, 4,300 instructors, 6,300 therapy horses and thousands of contributors from all over the world helping people at PATH Intl. centers.