BRADENTON -- Four children will be taken off a waiting list and receive one year's worth of therapeutic horseback riding lessons at Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy thanks to a grant awarded this month.
The $3,200 grant from the Jerome & Mildred Paddock Foundation will help pay for 40 lessons a year for young people with disabilities between the ages of 5 and 18, said Gail Clifton, volunteer executive director for the nonprofit organization.
"This is tremendously significant," Clifton said. "Sixty-six percent of individuals in our program cannot afford the fees per lesson."
The hour-long lessons cost $25 each, she said, but no one is turned away if they cannot afford to pay.
Clifton said that children with autism, cerebral palsy and physical, emotional and psychological challenges are served through therapeutic horseback riding.
"Riding therapy has been used for many, many years to assist people with disability. The three-dimensional walk of the horse replicates the three-dimensional walk of humans," Clifton said. "It
strengthens the core, which gives you better posture and helpsactivate the respiratory system, helps with speech, and just being outside out in nature, there's that emotional piece that helps you feel better."
Participants can stay in the program as long as they want, Clifton said.
SMART, based in East Bradenton, usually has 20 to 30 people on the waiting list for space in one of their classes, Clifton said.
The volunteer-runorganization has 17 horses and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
About 300 people are served a year, Clifton said.
"Many of them usea wheelchair, they're looked down on physically and emotionally, but when they're on a horse everyone is looking up at them," Clifton said.
"There's an emotional boost there -- horses are magical."
Miriam Valverde, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamValverde.