Therapeutic Riding Inc., a nonprofit organization in Pittsfield Township, is taking its horseback riding facility for children and adults with disabilities to the virtual world.
Founded in 1984, TRI, as it’s affectionately known, is developing a virtual reality experience, complemented by standard viewing goggles, for those who can’t make the trip themselves or want to relive their visit.
“We have a waiting list of three years for some of the people who come here, and a virtual reality experience can be a real game-changer for them,” says Leanne Chadwick, executive director of TRI. “It will be like being right on the trail with a horse. So many good things happen when a bond forms with a person and a horse.”
Some of the benefits of pairing specially-trained horses and people with disabilities — autism spectrum disorder, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries, and PTSD, among others — include improving balance and muscle strength, boosting self-esteem, and increasing communication and social skills.
Jim and Finola Smith (their names have been changed) have two children, Tara and Rory, who have autism spectrum disorder. Since riding at TRI, Finola says, “Rory’s language skills have blown up,” while “Tara’s lesson sets her up for a successful weekend, giving her an opportunity to reset herself and reboot her confidence.”
TRI offers around 100 group and private riding lessons a week; seniors and hospital groups visit during the day, and children participate after school.
The 46-acre campus includes a heated indoor arena, an outdoor arena, 15 horses, paddocks with running water, and meeting rooms. The indoor arena is equipped with a lift to accommodate people who can’t mount a horse on their own. Summer camps also are offered.
“Along with virtual reality, we’re going to be adding more video,” says Chadwick. “Our goal is to expand our reach as much as possible.”