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Therapy Saddles Up at New Facility

The Therapeutic Riding Center has expanded, and continues to grow through providing therapy to clients, research and teaching students.

Written by Melanie Hess

Two-year-old Sammons completes his weekly hour of hippotherapy, which his mother and occupational therapist say is responsible for his remarkable progress.

Thirteen years ago, with a mere $500 to contract the use of horses, Texas Tech began a program that would strengthen ties with the community and impact hundreds of lives over the next decade.

This year, in order to house the continual growth of research and therapy programs at the Texas Tech Therapeutic Riding Center (TTRC), the center constructed an entirely new building, the Texas Tech Therapeutic Teaching and Research Facility.

Heidi Brady, director of the center, has been with the program since its start in 1998.

Standing in the midst of the new multi-purpose building, watching 2-year-old Ryan Sammons complete his weekly hour of hippotherapy, Brady surveyed the new facility and said she is excited about the progress the program has made and opportunities the new facility will provide.

“With the expansion of our program, the shared facility we had wasn’t enough,” Brady said. “We couldn’t provide enough times for our riders. With the weather changing so quickly, it’s nice to have somewhere we can get in quickly and safely to continue sessions. It’s also a great place to use in the winter and rain, so that we don’t have to cancel. They come weekly and we don’t like them to miss.”

The groundbreaking of the facility, a $360,000 building funded primarily from donations and grants, occurred in June 2010 and was officially opened for sessions in spring 2011 after its dedication last October.

The center serves four major purposes: research, hippotherapy, therapeutic riding and equine-assisted psychotherapy. Therapy programs reach the community and Texas Tech students by providing both treatment for those in need and hands-on courses for students who are interested in learning how to properly provide these services.

Sammons’ mother, Meghann, and his occupational therapist, Kellie Proctor, said they believe the hippotherapy Texas Tech has provided is responsible for his remarkable progress. Ryan began the program both non-verbal and non-walking.

“I think it’s one of the key components that has gotten him as far as he is,” Meghann said. “I think he’ll probably take his first little independent steps sometime in the next month or two.”

For Ryan and more than 100 other hippotherapy, therapeutic riding and equine-assisted psychotherapy riders who went through the program last year, the movement of the horse serves as a treatment modality and moves the pelvis in a way that is similar to walking.

With 15 therapy horses and several in training, horses are fit to each rider to cater to individual needs. Hippotherapy must be done as a team and involves a certified therapeutic riding instructor and a therapist.

“The horse doesn’t walk like us, but when you’re riding on top of him, the way your pelvis moves versus his simulates the perfect walk,” Brady said. “The movement is key to strength, but the improvements are not only physical. There are also cognitive and speech improvements. There are receptors at the base of the pelvis that stimulate the brain, and, therefore, the whole body.”

What’s the Difference Between Hippotherapy and Therapeutic Riding?

“Hippotherapy is occupational, speech or physical therapy as a treatment modality to help or improve walking, speaking and other cognitive abilities,” Brady said. “With therapeutic riding, the rider is actually in the saddle learning skills with the horse that will help them throughout life. For example, we use tools like the bridge on the outdoor sensory trail, where riders can hear the clip-clop of the horses to help with auditory skills.”

In hippotherapy, the horse is used as a treatment modality for physical, occupational or speech therapy.

On the other hand, therapeutic riding teaches riding skills to individuals with disabilities, and enables them to gain strength and endurance, as well as many social and psychological benefits.

Therapeutic riding, which can be done with between one and four riders, often is the next step for riders who have graduated from hippotherapy. This type of therapeutic intervention involves equine-assisted activities for the purpose of contributing positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well being of people with disabilities.

The facility provides an area to conduct controlled research, including the yearlong study on autism that was recently completed.

Therapeutic riders are given opportunities to participate in activities, such as the Special Olympics Equestrian Competitions, which Lubbock hosted last year at the TTRC.

Equine-assisted mental health is the use of horses for emotional, behavioral and relation growth for individuals, families or groups.


Brady said it is very helpful to have a new, separate area to conduct research.

“We recently did a yearlong study on autism that was presented at the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH, Int’l) national meeting,” Brady said. “We are working on future studies in autism as well as looking at other areas, such as diabetes, for collaboration with Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.”

In order to further provide resources for research and therapy, phase two, another $360,000 project, is the Therapeutic Riding Center’s next goal. Phase two will provide large fans for cooling the Therapeutic Teaching and Research Facility along with a classroom, therapy room, restroom, family waiting room, tack room, horse stalls and offices.

Courses Offered at the TTRC

The new facility will host two courses this fall: Principles of Hippotherapy (ANSC 3309) and Advanced Therapeutic Riding (ANSC 4305).

Heather Hernandez, TTRC program director, teaches the hippotherapy course and said she has the best job in the world.

“I’ve seen individuals take their first steps after their first session on a horse, so that’s pretty amazing,” Hernandez said. “Children that weren’t walking before, the horse gives them input to the bodies that they need so they can actually walk. No knowledge of horses or individuals with disabilities is required to volunteer at TTRC or take the equine-assisted therapy courses.  We will provide you will the skills needed through training.”

Since hippotherapy is a service-learning course, student lab time is out of a classroom, on the sensory trail or in the barn.

“They get to walk with the clients and really make a difference over the semester,” Hernandez said.

Many students claim to have received so much more than three credit hours toward their degree from their time in the cources at the facility.

Advanced Therapeutic Riding gives students the opportunity to become PATH, Int’-certified therapeutic riding instructors.

This is a field growing with career opportunities, Hernandez said. Students can even complete their 25 required hours for certification at the facility.

“It’s the next step,” she said. “You actually get to teach therapeutic riding lessons as a part of that course and we give you feedback and students are trained for certification.”

Equine Assisted Mental Health (ANSC 3314), is another horse therapy class offered in the spring semester. The course previously has been offered as an undergraduate class, but is now in the final stages of working in conjunction with the counselor education program and becoming a graduate course as well. The program is also in the final stages of developing a new graduate certificate program in equine-assisted mental health with collaboration between the counselor education and animal science departments.

Brady said many students she speaks to about the courses at the facility claim to have received so much more than three credit hours toward their degree.

“A lot of my students tell me that it’s really changed them forever,” Brady said. “They feel like the riders gave more to them then they gave to the riders, and they develop really strong relationships.

Students are left with a new perspective on people with disabilities and the issues their families face, Brady said.

“You actually get to side-walk with our clients, and you get to stay with the same rider throughout the semester, so you get to see them progress, and so it’s a really good way to give back and learn more about different types of therapy at the same time,” Hernandez said. “It just leaves you at the end of the day with a really good feeling of knowing that you made a difference in a lot of different ways.”

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7 Responses to “Therapy Saddles Up at New Facility”

  1. fabiola chinea Says:

    Hello, I am an incoming freshmen and I am from Victoria, Tx. We also have a riding therapy center. As a high school student, I volunteered at least three times a week. This is a wonderful program, I have seen so many children improve with confidence and mobility by using this therapeutic method. I am use to working with the horses and also with the children. I had no idea that Tech would have a program like this. I am very excited to come and join!!! :)

  2. Heather Hernandez Says:

    Hi Fabiola,
    Welcome to Tech! We look forward to meeting you and having you involved at our center! :o) Good luck on your Freshman year. Just call our office 806-792-4683 or shoot me and email to get involved.

  3. Tania Aviles Says:

    Fixing to move up to Lubbock this spring, i’m currently active in Therapeutic horse traning here at home and would love to get involed once I get out there! Can I get an e-mail?

  4. valerie Says:

    Hi, I’m a freshman in highschool and I’m interested in having a degree in hippotheray or physical therapy. Are there any classes here that will help me find a college/university for that. thank you. ;)

  5. Heather Hernandez Says:

    Hi Tania,
    We would love for you to get involved in our program in the spring! What TR center are you currently involved in? You can reach us at our office at 806-792-4683 or send me an email at and we can get you involved in the program. We are always in need of additonal help, we look forward to meeting you!

  6. Heather Hernandez Says:

    Hi Valerie!
    Texas Tech offers several classes in Equine-Assisted Therapy. We even offer an Equine Certificate with an emphasis in equine-assited therapy through the Animal and Food Sciences Department. You can find a link to the equine certificate and more information about the courses we offer on our website at http://www.afs/ Feel free to call our office if you have any further questions about the training in equine-assited therapy field that TTU offers! :)

  7. Nicole Says:

    I am very interested in becoming an Occupational Therapist and minoring in the equine-assisted therapy. Is this at all possible at Texas Tech??
    Thank you!

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