Healthy as a horse: Equine heroes help humans heal at Triangle Therapeutic

By on August 31, 2016
Dion Magaro of the Lebanon VA riding Aspen and being led by Laura Rutledge from Triangle. Photo by Rebecca Rowe

Dion Magaro of the Lebanon VA riding Aspen and being led by Laura Rutledge from Triangle. Photo by Rebecca Rowe

Triangle Therapeutic Riding Center, located in Reinholds, is the brainchild of its executive director, Laura Rutledge.

She has been in love with horses ever since she started riding at the age of four, becoming active in 4-H and then volunteering at the Thorncroft Equestrian Center as a teenager.

Upon her graduation from the Pennsylvania State University, she worked as a recreation therapist in a sub-acute rehab brain injury unit and later with teens in a drug and alcohol treatment center.

After taking time off to have her two children, Brent and Bethany, she continued to pursue training in professional riding instruction and therapeutic riding.

“My son was born with Arnold Chiari Malformation, a birth defect at the base of the brain,” Rutledge said. “After his first surgery at age nine, I decided to start my own therapeutic riding program.

“People driving along Route 897 could see us in the outdoor arena on the Zook Farm and would stop by to ask what we were doing.”

Some of those folks became clients, although the first riders were children of parents Rutledge knew from working at Greystone and Thorncroft Riding Centers. Her program started in 2005 and moved to its current location at Stony Run Fields when it was built in 2013 directly behind the Rutledge home.

Triangle Therapeutic Riding Center currently has a long-term lease with Stony Run Fields, a strong supporter of the program.

“Everyone was on board from the very beginning,” said Rutledge. “The builder, Eli Zimmerman, donated a pony named Romeo to the center and many of the subcontractors who worked on the project have children who take lessons or volunteer at the center.

“Thorncroft Equestrian Center has also been a great mentor. We are following their business plan and through their connections we received the donations of our first two horses, Misty and Blue.”

Blue was a former champion show jumper, but liked his life as a therapy horse much better.

He was patient and kind while special children crawled around on his back sitting backward and sideways. More advanced students enjoyed his rocking horse canter and going over ground poles. Riders with autism spectrum disorder especially enjoyed riding him, as his large swingy gaits satisfied their sensory seeking mindsets.

The center said goodbye to Blue on April 1. Shortly after his passing, there was a brief rain shower with a rainbow that seemed to signify that he was at peace waiting for his riders in heaven, some believed. Blue had spent the last 11 years on medicine for Cushings Disease and was having complications associated with the disease.

The center currently has seven program horses and four teachers.

They use the triangular model of Rider-Horse-Instructor to achieve riding objectives, hence their name. Their mission is to improve the body, mind and spirit of people, regardless of disability, through equine assisted and therapeutic riding. Their vision is to continuously improve their client skills and objectives by offering flexible, innovative and person centered programming.

The instructors are highly qualified and certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Int’l) or the Pennsylvania Council on Therapeutic Horsemanship (PACTH).

Chris Klink’s 13-year-old son, Benjamin, has been coming to the center for eight or nine years.

“The biggest thing I see is the improvement in his confidence and his coordination in general,” Klink said. “He absolutely loves coming here. He is completely nonverbal, but he now says whoa to the horse!”

Examples of clients who come to the center are children with autism and teenagers with behavioral issues.

Also enrolled in the program is a senior citizen with a traumatic brain injury who grew up riding horses and three groups from the Lebanon VA. The VA program is funded through donations from the Reinholds VFW and local businesses.

Recently Rutledge and her assistant, Rita Bowman, attended a clinic that focused on working specifically with clients suffering from trauma and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). They learned new techniques and activities that will better serve their growing program for veterans.

Bowman, a D & E Communications retiree, began volunteering at Triangle in 2009 as a leader and side aide and is currently pursuing her PACTH certification.

“Having always been around horses, that’s what drew me in,” she said. “I never had experience with people who have different abilities. Our riders make my heart smile. I receive so much more than I give. This is a truly rewarding experience that has changed my life.”

None of the services provided at Triangle Therapeutic Riding Center are covered by insurance, unlike in other countries. The center relies on donations to keep the program running. All of the staff donate their time.

“We all work for free because we see how what we do changes lives and we see it carry over into daily life,” said Rutledge.

In addition to the volunteers, the center looks for donations of horses and equipment.

“Scholarship donations are greatly appreciated, but if we don’t have the horses, we can’t run the program,” she said. “Depending on the age and background of the horse, it can take a year of training to get them ready. We need to teach them trust and respect. It’s like having a little kid. You need a lot of time, patience and consistency.”

In addition to the therapeutic riding programs, the center also offers lessons year round. For more information, visit www.triangletr.org.

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One Comment

  1. Laura Rutledge

    August 31, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    Thank you Rebecca Rowe for a lovely article. However one correction, Misty and Takoda were donated by Thormcroft. Blue was donated privately by a family from Solon, Ohio.

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