Camp Care: Therapeutic riding program utilizes Sensory Trail for those with disabilities

Connecticut Families

For two and a half years now, Billy Doblinger has been coming to Camp Care, working with horses like Prince, to improve his muscle control. 

“He had a brain injury when he was 7 months old,” explains his dad, Josh.

The 5-year-old tackles steep terrain to utilize the program’s Sensory Trail, which includes unique stations where riders can use their noses, their ears or their sense of touch. 

“It stimulates all the senses,” says Program Director and Instructor Rebecca Gardella of the trail featuring chimes and bells to ring, as well as physical challenges.  “We’re challenging their balance, they’re reaching – up, down, left, right.”

Billy communicates with Prince in his own way.  “You going to cluck for a walk on?” asks his instructor, as he makes a noise with his tongue.  “Great job.”

It’s an innovative approach, helping those with emotional or physical disabilities. 

“We’re told it gives him the sense of walking,” explains Josh.  “The horse’s walk is exactly like a human gait.”

“It’s an avenue for expression and feeling strong and able,” says Executive Director Laureen Moran. 

Participants range from children to adults.  The experience promotes team bonding – as the participant grows close to his instructor and the volunteers that help out.

“Then there’s the other part which is less explicable and that’s ok,” says Rebecca.  “It’s the magical part.  They just bond with their horse.”

This partnership boilds connection and confidence. 

“It’s this sense of empowerment that I can get on this 1,000 pound animal.  We can have a relationship and he’ll go where I ask him to go,” explains Rebecca.

Billy has gained strength. 

“He’s been a lot better holding up his head on his own,” says Josh. 

He takes on each obstacle with a smile. 

“The kids don’t realize they’re in therapy as they’re riding,” says Laureen. “They’re just enjoying it so much.”

Camp Care runs 5 sessions a year with 40 riders apiece.  And, yes, everyone considers the Sensory Trail to be a big hit.

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