Week 51: Mane Stream – Helping Children with Disabilities through Equine Therapy
“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves” reads a quote in the volunteer kit. I was reading up ahead of my scheduled day at Mane Stream, an adaptive horsemanship and equine therapy center in Oldwick, NJ. I would quickly learn that Mane Stream was much more than a therapeutic program. It is a community of joy and healing. The special staff, therapists and volunteers who work at Mane Stream light up the lives of their patients and their families.
Mane Stream’s mission is to improve the quality of life for individuals with physical, developmental, emotional and medical challenges through a diverse program of equine assisted activities (Hippotherapy), therapy and educational initiatives.
Students in Mane Stream programs come from all backgrounds and present with a wide variety of cognitive, physical, behavioral, psychological or sensory disabilities.
Many have multiple diagnoses and are of all ages, from young children through people in their 80s. Some of the client disabilities include: ADD, ADHD, Alzheimers, Autism, bipolar disorder, cancer patients and survivors, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, developmental delays, depression, MS, muscular dystrophy, OCD, PTSD, sensory dysfunction, and more.
The interaction between patient and horse provides a unique opportunity for experiential therapy.
Mane Stream’s licensed occupational, physical, or speech-language therapists are specially trained in the movement and behaviors of the horses and how to work with patients on the horses to enhance therapeutic treatment.
The multidimensional, rhythmic, repetitive movements of a horse are used as a way to enhance achieving therapeutic goals and objectives. This allows the therapists to pair traditional treatment methods with innovative rehabilitative techniques.
Riding on the horse and adjusting to the horse’s gait and movements while performing various tasks improves the patient’s muscle tone, sensorimotor skills, posture, balance, coordination, flexibility and strength.
In addition to the physical benefits, working with horses provides many emotionally therapeutic and psychological benefits such as improving concentration, building self-esteem, improving emotional awareness and empathy, and building self-confidence.
Plus, patients really love the opportunity to get treatment in a non-clinical, fun, community and farm setting. Mane Stream is a place where patients can be themselves and be with other children that are just like them. They bond with each other and their horses. It also provides parents and families a wonderful community of support both with the Mane Stream staff and volunteers, and through meeting bonding and supporting other with other families with similar challenging situations.
I’d arrived at Mane Stream ready to do whatever they needed me to do. I knew that since I was volunteering during a workday, therapy sessions would not occur until after school let out, so I would be helping the staff for the majority of the day.
The setting is a beautiful, idyllic 12-acre farm nestled among farmland and backing up to Cold Brook Nature Reserve. Upon arrival, I was immediately drawn to the fields and saw some of the horses out grazing in the sun.
The staff was very welcoming and shared the history of the program. We took a tour of the training center, therapy areas, and grounds, and I met some of the horses. I learned all about the services and programs they provide and was amazed by the variety of both programs and groups of people they help.
Some of their programs include:
- Adaptive riding lessons – custom lessons using special techniques and/or equipment to help riders learn riding skills from a PATH-certified instructor. Various therapies such as PT, OT and Speech are incorporated into the lessons.
- Take the Reins – a program for veterans designed to reduce stress and combat isolation and depression. It’s free with funding through Wounded Warrior project, grants, and private donors.
- Horses for Healing – a free program for those living with, recovering from and living life after cancer. Built on a team model, this program forms a support network for the participants and includes horsemanship, grooming and bonding time with the horses.
They also have special programs designed to work with Alzheimer patients and veterans suffering from PTSD.
Mane Stream loves working with volunteers, and volunteers play crucial roles in the programs. Long-term individual volunteers commit to participating in therapy sessions, adaptive riding lessons and other programs and help walk horses and perform other duties. One-day and group volunteers who can help do all kinds of maintenance and office work.
My first volunteer activity was to help muck out the outdoor pen for one of the ponies.
Working outside in such a picturesque setting was great and my companion from Mane Stream made the work a ton of fun!
I was able to give some love to the pony which was also fun!
The horses are typically donated to the program but Mane Stream is very careful when choosing to accept them.
Horses are evaluated both for their temperament (both with humans and the other horses) and the type of movement they produce prior to deciding whether or not to accept a horse.
Once accepted, the horse goes through a several-month training and adjustment period where they are trained by professional horse handlers for their unique role within therapy sessions. Once they are deemed ready to work in the program, they are slowly and carefully integrated.
It’s not unusual for a horse to not live up to the strict guidelines that Mane Stream requires. In those cases the horses are returned to their original owners.
Horses on the farm are highly cared for and loved and receive tons of human interaction.
They are carefully monitored and checked to be sure they are in optimal health and their work schedules are carefully monitored so that they receive lots of time off of their work duties and out in the fields enjoying the sun and fresh grass and hay.
Mucking out the pony pen took most of the morning.
I spent the rest of the day helping out in a variety of other ways, one of which was sorting shoes…. human shoes that is!
Mane Stream has an ongoing fundraising program called “Shoes for Shoes.” Partnering with Shoebox Recycling to keep shoes out of landfills and provide affordable footwear to people in developing nations, they collect, sort and pack clean, gently-used pairs of shoes in boxes and ship them to Shoebox Recycling to be sent around the world.
Mane Stream gets $0.50 per pound of shoes. The funds raised goes towards the cost of re-shoeing the horses.
Before I left that afternoon, I learned about Mane Stream’s summer camp. It’s a unique program in that it’s inclusive, meaning it welcomes children with disabilities AND their siblings and typically-developing peers. Families with disabled children don’t often get the chance to have all their children go to camp together so this program is really a wonderful opportunity.
Mane Stream also partners with local special education programs such as the Matheny Medical and Education Center, Daytop, and others to provide therapeutic class trips and programs.
What I learned during my day at Mane Stream is that the staff, volunteers and therapists take the message of hope and love to heart.
They are making a huge positive difference in the lives of the patients and their families!
I left truly inspired and humbled by the dedication and passion I witnessed among everyone I met.
Thank you for joining me on this week’s journey!
Penelope XO XO
To learn more about Mane Stream, please visit their website at: https://www.manestreamnj.org/
To learn more about the Shoes for Shoes program so you can host a shoe drive, please contact Louisa Bartok through her email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about volunteer opportunities in general at Mane Stream, please visit: https://www.manestreamnj.org/volunteeropportunities