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HILTRA prepares for therapy season


A local therapeutic riding group is looking for volunteers to come to the Hill County Fairgrounds for training Thursday and Saturday.

Carley Robertson, chair of the board of the Hi-Line Therapeutic Riding Association, HILTRA, said the association needs volunteers in a variety of areas, including people to work with the horses used to provide therapy and people to work with the children the therapy is given to. Volunteers who are good at organizing or working at fund-raising are also needed, she added.

"We're looking for people who are good with paperwork, too," she said. "And we're finding more and more that we need people with people skills."

The sessions Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon will help train people to help in providing the therapy, Robertson said.

The association got its beginning in 1996 under the direction of local rancher, the late George See, and Jack Sturm and Jim and Kathy Leeds , Robertson said.

About 40 people volunteered to help HILTRA last year, she said, and about 20 children received therapy over the summer.

The association lost the use of a few horses this year, and the number of children signed up at this point has dropped to about 14, Robertson said.

The association is evaluating some horses offered to be used in the program right now, she said, and HILTRA is always interested in talking to more people who would like to donate the use of their horses.

"We would like to build that base," Robertson said. "We're always looking for new volunteers, too."

HILTRA uses horseback riding to provide therapy to children with disabilities. The natural rhythm, variation and repetition of the horse's movement creates movement in the rider's body that is similar to natural walking motions. This motion can help with muscular stimulation and development. The therapy can help with balance, posture and mobility.

Therapy done in conjunction with the riding can also improve speech, psychological and behavioral problems.

"The motion of the horse develops a pretty significant impact on muscle tone and the ability to pay attention to what is going on," Robertson said.Therapeutic riding can help people with problems resulting from cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, stroke, autism and learning or language disabilities, although the potential benefits have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Robertson said HILTRA helps a wide range of children in the Havre area, including children who have speech impediments, physical problems or developmental disabilities.

The therapy is given in three areas, she said. The highest level is hippotherapy, derived from the Greek word "hippos," meaning horse. That level of care can only be given when a licensed physical therapist is giving the treatment, she said.

Therapeutic riding on a slightly lower level than hippotherapy is also given, and the program also offers recreational riding.

Robertson emphasized that HILTRA is not just about riding.

"It's not about riding lessons. It's about therapy," she said.

The children's enjoyment of riding the horse helps with giving other therapy, Robertson said. Therapy can be given for a speech problem, for example, and the child doesn't even realize that the therapy is going on, she said.

HILTRA recently started a scholarship fund, she added. The cost for each session is about $100, and Matt McCann, former state representative from Harlem, suggested the association start a fund to help pay the fee for people with low incomes. So HILTRA did start a fund, she said, and the association is accepting donations to provide more scholarships.

HILTRA has been very fortunate in finding volunteers, Robertson said. The volunteers have ranged from physical therapists to people donating horses to the association, and local businesses helping with supplies and fund-raising, she said.

"There have been a lot of volunteers who have helped us in the past," she said. "We're trying to rekindle the interest."

The training sessions, which will last about an hour and a half to two hours, start at 7 p.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Saturday. Both sessions will be in the Bigger, Better Barn at the Hill County Fairgrounds.

For more information, contact Robertson at 265-1840, or mail HILTRA at P.O. Box 786, Havre, MT 59501.

On the Net:

Hi-Line Therapeutic Riding Association: http://www.hiltra.org


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