More than 200 special-needs kids attend TREAT Rodeo

Tarleton Equine Assisted Therapy

Tarleton State University

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

STEPHENVILLE, Texas—The calm of a horse can be therapy for children who are struggling. That’s the message from Tarleton State University’s Equine Assisted Therapy (TREAT), which gave more than 200 youngsters a chance to be a cowboy for a day during its bi-annual Special Kids Rodeo Tuesday.

The children and other guests traveled to Tarleton’s Equine Center from two dozen area school districts to ride one of a half-dozen horses and take part in other activities designed for children with special needs. The all-volunteer-run rodeo also provided an opportunity for Tarleton’s students studying animal sciences, nursing, physical education and special education to interact with the children and assist them in saddling up for modified events such as stick-horse barrel racing, dummy roping and bull riding.

Tarleton student organizations and athletic teams, including Army ROTC, fraternities and sororities, freshman seminar students, and 4-H’ers from as far away as San Angelo heeded the call to volunteer with the event and to assist the participants.

The daylong rodeo allows children with special needs to challenge themselves both physically and emotionally, said Dr. David Snyder, director of TREAT and professor of animal sciences. “The changes we see in some participants are phenomenal, ranging from improvements in mobility to improvement in social interactions at home and at school,” he said. “The changes brought about in the college students who work with TREAT participants are equally impressive.”

Participants suffer from a variety of disabilities ranging from autism and attention deficit disorder to social disorders and the physically handicapped.

“The rodeo is designed to include a fun environment that makes the children want to participate,” Snyder said. “Because of the event we have seen an increase in self-confidence, self-awareness and discipline, and a lot of the children benefit from the exercise of riding the horse.”

Known as hippotherapy, the innovative method provides physical, occupational and speech therapy. The movement of the rider on the horse is similar to walking, Snyder explained. In many cases, children who are autistic respond to the horse’s movement, which provides a calming experience that can bring out the best in the kids. For others, such as children with cerebral palsy, the tightened muscles become relaxed and loosen while on the horse.

“The TREAT rodeo is unlike anything else,” said senior animal production major Will Lansmon, a weekly volunteer with the program. “At first I was hesitant to participate but it’s opened my heart to kids with special needs. It’s great to watch students come back and see them more willing to participate and the improvements in their physical abilities every week.”

Tonya King, a graduate student studying counseling psychology, agreed after volunteering at the past four rodeos. “The kids gain confidence and some of them initially don’t have the courage to get up on a horse. To see them conquer their fears, we know it really helps to build their self-esteem as well as their posture, balance and coordination. It humbles me when they come in here with all the smiles and makes me realize they’re always willing to try. To see them do their best amazes me.”

When Snyder came to Tarleton in 1993, the university didn’t offer any equine-assisted activities. Now, of the 55 therapeutic riding programs in Texas, TREAT is one of the 17 considered by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association to be a Premier Accredited Center.

“The horse and other animals are tremendous and so are our college students. When you put these two together you can do some amazing things and provide a great experience for these children with special needs,” Snyder said.

Tarleton’s TREAT offers rides from 3 to 5:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays at the Equine Center located at the College Farm. For more information about the equine assisted therapy program, visit A video featuring TREAT can also be viewed online at

To be a TREAT rodeo volunteer or to inquire about other opportunities, contact Dr. Snyder at (254) 968-9656, or via e-mail at


Tarleton State University
A member of The Texas A&M University System

Contact: Kurt Mogonye

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More than 200 special-needs kids attend TREAT Rodeo - Media Relations - Tarleton State University