AHEAD (Accelerated Habilitation Education And Development) WITH HORSES INC. has been providing unique, highly motivating and effective therapy, education and recreation through horses and related experiences to disabled, disadvantaged, and special-needs children since 1968 and has earned recognition educationally, medically and scientifically. Through vaulting (gymnastics on a moving horse), even severely disabled children learn and achieve with the goal of enabling them to lead more independent and productive lives.
The Morris Family Foundation gave a grant to purchase the most important piece of equipment required to provide this outstanding therapy, besides the horse itself, which is the vaulting surcingle. This piece of equipment holds the padding in place on the horse, which gives the child a comfortable place to sit while still allowing the body to feel the movement of the horse. (For those just learning to walk, this allows their body to feel and move more freely with the movement of the horse in the natural way we walk, and can lead to these children taking their first independent steps!) The handles that are part of the surcingle are what the child holds on to in order to balance him/herself. The AWH program is different from regular riding programs because only vaulting equipment is used. It allows for 2 people to sit on the horse comfortably, where a regular saddle allows for only one. This is important for the children in the program who are not able to sit up by themselves and have to ride with an Instructor (a “base” lesson).
Some of the benefits observed in children who have been a part of the program include: holding their head up independently, using their hands and arms, taking their first steps, speaking their first words, an “unresponsive” child who wants to give a hug, and many other milestones that are hard won by these children.