Healing on Horseback: ManeGait Therapeutic Horsemanship

Photos courtesy of Maryanne Zamora.

As I pulled into the driveway of the ManeGait Therapeutic Horsemanship property, I immediately knew that this place was special.

The ranch was huge and quite beautiful, surrounded by trees on all sides, brightly painted barns, and roomy enclosures where horses grazed peacefully under the bright sun. In the center of it was the large arena where a small crowd had gathered around a group of riders.

A brown horse peered at me from behind its enclosure, a bit curious maybe, but not enough to cease chomping on a piece of grassy stalk.

MainGait 4I took a moment to admire this majestic creature. I’ve always thought that horses were sleek and graceful and elegant.

I don’t know very much about horses or the sheer variety of equestrian sports out there, but I do know that the horse-human bond has existed throughout the ages.

We discovered that there was a lot that horses could help us with and we put them to use on farms, racetracks, for pulling and transport, and even as beloved companion animals.

But today I found out something even better about horses. I found out that horses could heal.

As I approached ManeGait’s impressive indoor arena, the first thing that struck me was the sense of community and caring from everyone gathered around to watch the riders and their horses.

Bright-eyed little kids and teenagers were all smiles as they balanced carefully atop sturdy-looking horses while being assisted every step of the way by doting coaches and volunteers.

MainGaitA little girl, still sitting on her horse, giggled and made funny poses while admiring onlookers snapped pictures with their cameras and phones. Her gentle mount calmly waited for the commotion to die down as it enjoyed a bit of loving attention from its handlers.

A little boy proudly held his head up as he rode his horse slowly away from the riding hall, a full entourage of caring adults walking right beside them, matching their stride.

ManeGait Therapeutic Horsemanship, situated on a beautiful, rolling 14-acre site in Collin County, was founded by community leaders Bill and Priscilla Darling of Darling Homes and their daughter, Landon Darling Schneider, and has served the North Texas community for over 12 years.

ManeGait’s Therapeutic Riding programs aim to foster equestrian skill development and progression through high-quality instruction for children and adults with disabilities and, in the process, improve the rider’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and/or social skills while learning how to bond with an intelligent and affectionate animal.

Learning how to ride a horse strengthens the rider’s body, leading to increased flexibility, intellectual functioning, and improved motor skills. Plus, it ‘s quite effective because it’s a lot more fun for the clients than traditional Occupational, Speech, or Physical Therapy.

The Horse is the Ultimate Therapist.

Who wouldn’t want to spend the day horseback riding rather than being stuck all day in a doctor’s office? ManeGait provides a supportive and enriching environment for riders of all ages to reach their potential.

And that’s not all that sets ManeGait’s programs apart from the others – a key aspect of ManeGait’s therapeutic riding services is the first-of-its-kind initiative called the GaitWay to the Brain program. Developed at ManeGait, the strategy aims to integrate several brain-building exercises within the fabric of equine therapy in order to extend the cognitive and physical benefits of therapeutic horseback riding.

MainGait 8It also reinforces the positive effects by teaching family members how to incorporate these exercises at home, therefore leading to improved motor skills, communication, and academic performance.

Other innovative programs at ManeGait include the Therapeutic Carriage Driving, which provides many of the same physical, mental, and emotional benefits of therapeutic riding for those unable to participate due to weight, allergies to the horse, or a disability that prevents one from safely mounting, dismounting, or riding a horse.

Another is for our Veterans – The objective of ManeGait to Freedom is to provide wounded veterans and first responders the mind and body benefits of equine-assisted therapy. It’s fully customizable for the individual and enables clients to draw on or to participate in one or more of ManeGait’s therapy programs including Therapeutic Riding, Therapeutic Carriage Driving and GaitWay to the Brain.

For those interested in becoming Instructors, ManeGait also offers PATH INTL. (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) Registered Instructor On-Site Workshops and Certification classes.

The day of my visit on November 9, 2019 fell on ManeGait’s annual Horse Show, a day full of fun and games and friendly competition. That fact alone made it exciting. But, really, it was more than just that.

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I saw it in the twinkling eyes and the big smiles of the proud riders as they collected their much-deserved awards at the end of the day. I heard it in the happy, supportive cheers of their families, their parents, their coaches, and their friends. I felt it in the warm-hearted and gracious manner that the staff welcomed guests into their circle.

It was really more than just a show or contest. It was a celebration of friendship, of community, of family, and the incredible healing power of the horse.

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