Friday Standing Ovation from Ovation Riding

This week’s honoree: Sebastian Riding Associates.

Each Friday, HN teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization doing good work in the horse industry. Today, we recognize Sebastian Riding Associates, a therapeutic program based in southeastern Pennsylvania.

This week’s honoree:

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Sebastian Riding Associates is a private, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, community-based organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life for children and adults living with a wide range of physical, mental health and intellectual disabilities through equine assisted learning and therapy. We caught up with general manager Chris Hanebury to learn more.

What’s the current scope of Sebastian Riding Associates’ programs?

Celebrating 40 years this year, Sebastian Riding Associates was established in May of 1975 as a private, non-profit organization.  The name “Sebastian” honors the first horse used in the program — “Johann Sebastian Bach”. Seventeen children were involved in the initial Therapeutic Riding program. In October of 1975, Sebastian received its 501(c)(3) non-profit tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Service code.

In the summer of 1986, under the direction of physical therapist Dolores Bertoti, Sebastian Riding Associates became one the first programs in the country to document the positive effects of Therapeutic Riding in a scientific study. This research project measured the postural changes in children with cerebral palsy after a 10-week Therapeutic Riding program. Results of this study were published in the October 1988 issue of the Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association and presented in August of 1988 at the Sixth International Riding Congress held in Toronto, Ontario.

In 2014 SRA presented the initial results of the Riding Free Pilot Study to the PATH International Conference held in San Diego, CA. The Riding Free program was developed by Dene Mitchell, M.P.H, C.C.R.P, as her masters of public health thesis to address the need for programs for adolescents exposed to trauma whom have developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There have been many documented studies about the benefits of equine assisted learning and therapy with veterans with PTSD but this is one of the first studies focusing on adolescents ages 7 to 15. The program was developed by Ms. Mitchell and her team to improve the quality of life for these children and to reduce the PTSD symptoms. An additional ten students have started the study in early 2015 and we look forward to documenting what we already know: horses help humans in many ways.

Our current populations include over 180 students: 32% of our clients are 10 years of age and younger, 30% between the ages of 11 and 18 and 22% are 19 to 30 years old and the balance over the age of 31. The largest group of disabilities served is that of autism spectrum disorders, including 65 currently being served.

Erik Walker & Diamond

Can you describe your current programs?

Sebastian’s equine therapy services are tailored to meet the needs of the individual client. The majority of our sessions are private, where the client receives one-on-one attention from their instructor and/or physical therapist. Sebastian’s primary programs are therapeutic riding, driving and hippotherapy.

Therapeutic riding benefits Sebastian’s clients physically, psychosocially and educationally. Physically, improvements in posture, coordination, and muscle tone are acquired through carefully structured exercises carried out on horseback. Psychological well-being (self-esteem, self-confidence, responsibility) evolves from the special relationships established between horse and rider and from the rider’s growing awareness of his/her ability to care for the horse. Socially, our clients mature by establishing positive interactions with disabled and non-disabled peers, volunteers, and staff members. Educationally, the program stresses the development of thinking and communication skills, task orienting, increased focus, as well as basic riding proficiency, grooming, and tacking. A trained and certified instructor with the aid of volunteers administers therapeutic riding lessons.

Therapeutic Driving offers many of the same benefits as therapeutic riding but due to weight, interest and disability, driving provides additional opportunities. Many people don’t realize that driving offers similar benefits to therapeutic riding in that to drive a horse correctly you must sit upright in the cart and not depend on the back of the cart for posture.

Hippotherapy is a treatment approach that uses the movement of the horse to achieve the physical goals of improved posture, balance, mobility and function in select clients who have possess movement dysfunctions. The word “hippotherapy” means “treatment with the help of the horse.” Hippotherapy provides a controlled environment and graded sensory input designed to elicit appropriate responses from the client. This treatment approach does not teach specific skills, but rather provides a foundation of improved neuromotor functioning and sensory processing that translates to daily activities. These sessions are conducted by a physical therapist (with the aide of a therapeutic riding instructor and volunteers) that will analyze the client’s response and direct the movement of the horse to achieve specific goals.

Steph and Honey

Can you tell us a little bit more about your Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder program?

For more than a year, we have been working on our Riding Free, pilot research program for adolescents with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sadly, PTSD has become a prevalent disorder in our youth today with very few programs established to address the needs of this group. Symptoms of PTSD reach into emotional, mental, social and physical aspects of life. Moreover, living with PTSD poses serious adverse consequences and risks that may manifest into adulthood.

Do you rely on volunteer help at Sebastian?    

Depending upon the degree of the disability involved, active participation of three to five specially trained volunteers per client is needed. In addition, all of our property maintenance is completed by volunteers as well. Sebastian had approximately 210 volunteers log in more than 10,700 hours in 2014.

How is Sebastian funded?

All students at SRA pay a fee for services; however this fee represents a portion of the actual cost between what we charge for a lesson and what it actually costs SRA. This difference is subsidized by SRA through grants and fundraising.

Sebastian Riding Associates does not receive any Federal or State funding for its programs. United Way funding alignment changed and we only receive funds which are specifically designated to us which represents less than 3% of our income. Overall 40% of our income comes from grants, 10% fundraising and 33% from donations.

And of course — tell us about your horses!

SRA is currently home to 18 horses of varying sizes and breeds including a dwarf miniature and miniature horse.  Each of these horses has been hand selected for size, movement and temperament.

Malia with horse 2015

To learn more about Sebastian Riding Associates, we encourage readers to check out the organization’s website as well as the Facebook page.

Many thanks thanks to Ovation Riding for their support of both Horse Nation and individuals and organizations that are doing good work in the horse world. If you know someone who deserves a Standing Ovation, we would love to recognize them in a future post. Email the name of the person or organization along with a message about the good work they do to [email protected] Photos/videos are always welcome, and include a link to their website if applicable.

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