Equine therapy lifts Giant Steps students

Bonding: Giant Steps student Elliott Bartninkatis gives his mount Maisy a hug for doing a great job. Horse therapy has proven to be beneficial to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Bonding: Giant Steps student Elliott Bartninkatis gives his mount Maisy a hug for doing a great job. Horse therapy has proven to be beneficial to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Listening. Balancing. Moving. Interacting. It’s incredible what people with autism achieve when they’re paired with a horse.

At the Giant Steps Equine Therapy Programme, held every Thursday at the Violet Banks Indoor Arena at Westbury, up to five special horses carry their precious riders into a world that they love.

Curious: Giant Steps student Jethro Goodwin checks out where the bit has gone in Bella's mouth! Interaction is an important aspect of the Equine Therapy Programme.

Curious: Giant Steps student Jethro Goodwin checks out where the bit has gone in Bella's mouth! Interaction is an important aspect of the Equine Therapy Programme.

They’re walking, trotting and enjoying mounted games - one student is even cantering on lead.

Not only is it excellent exercise for gross and fine motor skills, but the programme’s operators say that, just as importantly, it’s about interaction with the animals and that the focus isn’t so much on teaching how to ride, but simply letting them ride.

Teamwork: Volunteers Tamarah Dingemanse, Elaine Gee, Louella Raines, Phyllis Pyke and Danielle Whatley of Giant Steps with riders Jethro, Xander, Jaxon and Elliott.

Teamwork: Volunteers Tamarah Dingemanse, Elaine Gee, Louella Raines, Phyllis Pyke and Danielle Whatley of Giant Steps with riders Jethro, Xander, Jaxon and Elliott.

Giant Steps therapeutic aide Danielle Whatley said that the students and clients become calm, relaxed and at one with their horse during their hour-long riding session.

“They are all very balanced and so proud of their achievements - most really love to trot!” she said.

“Horse therapy is proven worldwide to be very beneficial to children with disabilities and our kids absolutely love coming each week.”

Eliott Bartninkatis has a great time riding supervised by volunteer Phyllis Pyke and Danielle Whatley of Giant Steps.

Eliott Bartninkatis has a great time riding supervised by volunteer Phyllis Pyke and Danielle Whatley of Giant Steps.

Giant Steps, based at Deloraine, has been offering the equestrian programme for the past 10 years as one of the specialist services for those living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

It was started by local Phyllis Pyke who is still heavily involved and relies on a handful of volunteers, the kind donation of the all-weather facility and also the amazing temperament of the horses themselves.

Brown thoroughbred Bella, bay clydesdale cross Spider and 28-year-old pony Jasper, have all proven time after time that they can cope with anything.

On December 15 parents will watch their children ride at Giant Steps’ first Challenge Day, where the riders will receive rosettes for their achievements.

Xander Matcham relaxed in the saddle.

Xander Matcham relaxed in the saddle.

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