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TREAT in Merkel, TX

Horses used as therapy for blind children
Amanda Casanova / 325-676-6730
Monday, August 3, 2009

Reporter-News photo by Nellie Doneva Katelynn Tyson, from Sweetwater, smiles at her mother Monday. Students from Tarleton State University brought several horses to a summer program for visually impaired children.

Circling on horseback in a grassy meadow, children posed for pictures and smiled brightly Monday afternoon at the Butman Methodist Camp and Retreat Center near Merkel.

For some the opportunity was a first-time ride on a horse, for others it was a chance to reconnect with friends, but for all it was a “treat,” said Juanita Barker, field director for the Division for Blind Services program.

TREAT, Tarleton Rehabilitation and Equine Assisted Therapy program, brought 10 horses and other farm animals to share with blind and disabled children at the Experience Expanded Core Education in Living Skills program taking place at Camp Butman.

“We are so excited,” Barker said. “This is really neat for us because we’ve never been able to do this before.”
Children up to 18 years old from Midland, Odessa, Abilene, Wichita Falls and Lubbock are attending the four-day camp. Nearly 250 were expected.

“This is one of the few opportunities to come together as a family,” said Wayne Thompson, parent to a blind and deaf 14-year-old. “Parents get to know each other, and the kids get to have fun.”

More than a dozen student volunteers, made up of Tarleton State University and high school students, walked horses and riders, or supervised curious children who stopped by the pens housing sheep, goats, pigs and calves.

“The effect of animals is just amazing,” said David Snyder, Tarleton animal sciences professor and equine-assisted therapy director. “They bring out something in kids. Everyone can attach to an animal.”

Launched in 1995, the equine-assisted therapy program at Tarleton uses horseback riding as a form of therapy.

“If it hadn’t been for these services, I really don’t know where we’d be,” Thompson said. “They’ve provided us opportunities for education that we would never have had. We’re so grateful.”

Thompson’s son, Caleb, was diagnosed with cancer at two years old. Chemotherapy treatments damaged his brain, Thompson said.

“They’re just like them,” he said of Caleb’s classmates. “They’re kids too. They have needs — just different ones.”

Caleb’s brother, 13-year-old Kevin, said he and Caleb are close despite their differences.

“It’s just like another brother except he can’t do a lot of things that you can do,” he said.

Brothers, sisters and parents turned out to the event, hopping atop a horse or leaning over one of the pens to pet a goat.

“And sometimes there’s grandmas too,” said Eva Kendrick, sporting a “World’s Best Grandmother” visor.

Grandmother to disabled twins Fred and Rebecca, Kendrick said she appreciates the opportunity for her grandchildren.

“Our children that have disabilities sometimes sit in the background,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to. This is a wonderful program to show that.”