Charleston Area Therapeutic Riding
A nonverbal child is motivated to speak his first words. A wounded military veteran regains strength and lost mobility from a horse’s steady gait. A special education student gets much-needed exercise and acquires new motor skills.
Charleston Area Therapeutic Riding (CATR) is the Lowcountry’s oldest nationally accredited therapeutic horseback riding center. Since 1991 the organization has provided hundreds of riding sessions for children and adults with disabilities. Founded by horsewomen Meta Carter and Eileen McGuffie, CATR has grown from a handful of private students to teaching over 150 students a year. Under the leadership of Executive Director Murray Neale, the organization also partners with six to eight public schools a year, working with countless children with disabilities who would not otherwise have access to this specialized therapy.
Neale, who has spent her career working in therapeutic riding, explains the benefit of a horse’s movement for a physically disabled person. “The horse’s gait moves the pelvis with the same movement as walking and stimulates an upright posture. The four legs provide a rotational component—steady and rhythmic.” Astride the back of a horse, a nonambulatory person can gently and effectively build core strength and develop better control. “A horse is a wide base of support,” says Neale. “Think of when a child learns to walk, their legs are wide for stability.”
But the benefits aren’t simply physical. “Being elevated and moving through space with rhythm and speed, it’s very empowering,” says Neale. The freedom that comes from controlling a large animal inspires self-esteem, provides motivation. What’s more, connecting with CATR’s sensitive, tolerant horses is a therapy in itself. “We have some students who don’t communicate well, but they can connect with the horse, so we are able to work our way in that way,” explains Neale.
CATR employs nine PATH International certified instructors who are supported by 150 well-trained volunteers. The staff has extensive experience and education in child development, special education, physical education, and equestrian sports and serves over 150 individuals a year. CATR’s therapeutic riding programs include Individual Therapeutic Riding Instruction, the Public School Program, and the Veterans Program. Individual Therapeutic Riding Instruction is open to children and adults with a disability. The barn setting, combined with well-trained horses, professional instructors, and educated volunteers, is conducive to developing physical, communicative, social, and cognitive skills.
In 1995 CATR received the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International’s top rating of Premier Accredited Center and has maintained that status consistently.