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After more than a year away, EATA returns to Anchorage stables

Program centers on hippotherapy, therapeutic riding
Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 5:56 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After a long hiatus, with the COVID-19 pandemic putting a stop to last year’s season, a team dedicated to bettering lives through what’s called hippotherapy is once again back on track.

“Everybody was missing the social aspect of life,” said Equine Assisted Therapy Alaska program lead Janie Call. “Because we were all closed up. And I think that mentally, it was just really hard on everyone.”

Hippotherapy is “a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy in which a therapist uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully graded motor and sensory input,” per the U.S. National Library of Medicine. As Call says, however, it’s even served as a lifeline for those struggling with varying degrees of challenges in their everyday lives.

“You have kids that are autistic, and maybe they can’t connect with anybody else,” she said, pointing to an example of the kinds of students that go to EATA for therapy. “But you put them on a horse, and they now will start verbalizing things and being more open. And just that connection between the horse and you helps everybody.

“I have volunteers that have never touched a horse before,” she added. “And they come out, and learn how to interact, learn how to brush them and move around them so they’re safe. And that’s therapy in itself.”

Call, along with the many EATA volunteers, therapists and clients, started up the 2021 season just this week after a busy past few days. After arriving in Alaska from Oregon on Thursday night, Call and all the therapy horses – with an assist from several longtime volunteers – had to settle down in Anchorage before an open house Friday and the first official day of riding on Monday.

“Normally, we have week to get ready,” Call said. “We had three days. Worked out three or four times a day just walking.

“But it’s just the best,” she said. “This is just the best place to be this summer.”

Among some of the first visitors this week were two-year-old Liam and his mom, who was feeling a little nervous about her young son starting to work with horses.

“I was a little worried he might freak out, but then, the moment he saw the horses, he was just smiling, and giggling, and could not wait to get on,” she said. “We’re watching these milestones with fresh eyes that you don’t have when your kid just reaches their milestones normally and organically, like most of us do.”

Hayley Ross, an intern with EATA this summer who hails from the East Coast, said she’s loving her work with the group as she works toward a career in occupational therapy.

“I think the most incredible thing about the program is that we have so many people from different backgrounds,” she said. “And different abilities.”

EATA Executive Director Christy Constantini said she’s also thrilled to be back at the stables after a long, challenging year of dealing with the pandemic. Adding that she herself has utilized hippotherapy, she said she hopes people realize how beneficial hippotherapy can be for the individuals utilizing it.

“We don’t just plop people on a horse and lead them around the ring, or take them on a trail ride,” she said. “It is therapy in so many ways: body, mind and spirit.”

EATA is still welcoming volunteers. To learn more about the program, and other ways of getting involved, visit the group’s website.

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