Midnight Farm helps riders build strength to overcome illness

Alejandro Sayogo rides a horse during a therapeutic riding session Tuesday evening at Midnight Farm in Baldwin City. Sayogo is one of 56 riders enrolled in the summer program, which began Monday and runs through July 16. Enlarge photo

June 16, 2011

George Averill’s son, Sean, 16, can be seen Wednesdays at Midnight Farm’s therapeutic riding session holding onto the reins of a horse as it begins to trot.

About a year ago, when Sean, who has cerebral palsy, first started therapeutic riding sessions at Midnight Farm, he could not even hold onto the reins. George Averill said they tried other forms of therapy, such as swimming therapy, but nothing has seen the improvements the horseback riding has given Sean.

Averill said Sean was stronger than he was when he began the program and continued to improve on the horse.

“It’s just done him a lot of good in terms of strengthening his core and helping him with flexibility and physically,” Averill said. “And then it has given him a lot of confidence as well emotionally because it gives him something that he can really do that’s outside of the wheelchair and you know, just gives him real sense of accomplishment as he improves with his riding. We love the program. It’s been great for him.”

Nichole Blaser knows about the progress the sessions can provide as well. After a year in the program, her 10-year-old son Dallas, who also has cerebral palsy, can now support himself completely and lean to both sides on the horse. Blaser said not many organizations could offer this kind of therapy session.

“I know that there are few of them around, number one, and few of them that are able to provide the services that Midnight Farms does,” Blaser said.

Sean and Dallas are two of about 56 participants in the summer therapeutic riding program at Midnight Farm, which began Monday and runs through July 16. The participants range from 3 to 67 years of age, but everyone is there for the same reason.

“We try to give back to our community and we certainly have enjoyed being involved with Baldwin City,” Midnight Farm Director Colleen Baker said.

Baker said horseback riding was beneficial physically because the three-dimensional motion of the horse simulated walking and helped strengthen and relax muscles for better joint mobility, balance and body tone. Baker added an emotional and social element also existed for the riders, as they also learn self-confidence and emotional wellbeing.

“So, besides just the enjoyment of being on the farm, a lot of the folks we serve would never have the opportunity to ride a horse or be out in this type of a farm setting if they didn’t have this safe place for them to be,” Baker said.

While some participants do not attend the summer session, 10 riders will be involved for the first time. Most sessions at Midnight Farm last for nine weeks, but because of day camps at the end of July, the summer session is the shortest one offered each year.

Blaser said having sessions year-round is important for continued improvement.

“When they take a break, if they take any extended length of break from any type of therapy, they lose what they gained very quickly,” Blaser said. “So, being able to have that service provided with very short, minimal breaks throughout the year means a great deal.”

Averill believes it was very important to have programs such as this available for people with special needs, and said they would like to have Sean remain in the program as long as he could.

“They have big hearts and they love the kids,” Averill said. “They really work hard out there and they work whether it’s hot or cold or whether they’re short of staff or whatever it is, they just keep on going. They’re always there for us.”

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