Mar 2, 2023 By Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center Category: Special Needs,
Horses Help a Family Thrive: Ido's Story
THERAPEUTIC HORSEBACK RIDING has long been used as a tool for improving the lives of people with a range of cognitive, physical, and emotional impairments. But the costs are significant—from the expense of trained horses and specialized equipment to the right therapy staff. As part of its focus on ensuring that no member of Israeli society is left behind, Jewish National Fund has partnered with Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center (RMTRC) to provide therapeutic services to the Arava Valley community.
Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center, which is the only center of its kind within 200 miles, serves a broad spectrum of the special needs population, from school-age children to adults with cognitive, physical and emotional disabilities such as Cerebral Palsy and other brain injuries, autism, ADHD, and more.
My name is Ilanit Levi; my husband and I live in Eilat. I work as a kindergarten teacher. We have three sons: Omer, ten years old; Ido, seven years old; and Amit, four years old.
Ido (see his pictures) has moderate functioning autism and studies at Orim school for children with special needs. Amit has high-functioning autism and attends a kindergarten that specializes in communicating. Our Ido is a magical boy full of warmth and love but also has a lot of challenges and slow development. Only this year, he started to express himself verbally and mainly through songs and music. Two years ago, he was successfully weaned from diapers but does not easily make social connections. Beyond that, Ido is a thin, small child with low muscle tone and has difficulty staying focused and stimulated. He needs full-time care and encouragement to keep himself motivated.
Two and a half years ago, I started searching for the right place to accommodate Ido's needs and help him further his development. I thought of the Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center as I have a natural connection to animals, and this is precisely what I wished for Ido. Also, my nephew used to come to the center for therapeutic riding lessons following his parent's divorce, which immensely helped him.
After making contact with the Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center and through my health insurance, we found ourselves in the professional care of our therapist Galia. Of course, in the beginning, it was difficult for Ido, the treatments and activities at the stables were all new for him, and changes were very difficult for him to process. Galia maintained a continuous connection with us to understand Ido's needs fully. Staying calm and patient, Galia guided Ido step by step through his treatments.
Initially, Galia and Ido would meet for a 30-minute treatment session, and after half a year, we realized that Ido needed a more prolonged treatment session. For Ido to get the most out of his treatment, we needed to take into account the time required to motivate him to be active and responsive in his sessions. We, therefore, extended his treatments to 50-minute sessions.
When Ido rides on a horse during his sessions, there is always a side walker (usually a volunteer) walking next to him and the horse, in addition to Galia's close presence. Needless to say, after a few meetings, Ido would happily come to the stables, knowing what was expected of him and how to prepare himself before and after getting on the horse. Ido's treatments are often accompanied by music; this helps him open up and work with Galia in his session. During the treatment, Galia first works with Ido on his communication, with her, with the side walker, and of course, with the horse. Learning to communicate is critical for Ido and his enjoyment, which is necessary for the success of the whole process.
Galia has become close to us like a family member and a partner in Ido's days of success and days of regression. After two months of Ido's treatment, I felt it was essential to provide an emotional response for our eldest son Omer. He is a gifted child with two autistic brothers, bringing many emotional difficulties and challenges. Omer also started coming to the stables for riding sessions with another therapist, Ehud. They would also meet for 50 minutes, and after a year of therapy, Ehud decided that group therapy would be more beneficial to Omer. Four months ago, Omer finished his treatment with Ehud.
The experience that Omer and Ido shared by coming to the stables together and doing the same activity has strengthened their bond as brothers and is something that usually does not happen. Ido is often alone in his world.I took riding lessons to connect with the children's experience. From this experience, I learned how professional, inclusive, attentive, and pleasant the staff at the stables are. Ido's treatment at RMTRC is part of a complete set of treatments that Ido receives, and it gives him the added value that is just as important as an hour at his communications clinic.
Jewish National Fund supports the costly treatment needed for therapeutic horseback riding through scholarships to families in need, allowing eligible families to receive funds that cover up to 75% of their sessions. Jewish National Fund also provides ongoing funding for the ranch’s horses, stables, classrooms, riding trails and arenas, wheelchair accessible paths, and specially trained therapists.