Feature

Therapeutic Riding

Horses are the healers at Thorncroft and Quest

By Amanda Vitek |

Paul DiFelice suffered from a lack of oxygen at birth, resulting in a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Paul’s developmental delay was so severe that his parents were ecstatic when he was able to do something as basic as moving his arms.

When Paul was 4 years old, however, his mother read an article about therapeutic riding and decided to enroll her son in classes. At first, Paul was afraid and tense and needed an adult to ride on the horse with him. Though Paul usually gets around today by means of a wheel chair, he is able to ride completely by himself. Riding has now become a permanent part of Paul’s life, and he has physically improved enough to participate in riding competitions.

In telling their story on Thorncroft’s website, Paul’s parents, Phyllis and Vic DiFelice said, “Each week is a new beginning, a new chance to see what he can do out of that wheelchair and on that horse.”

Paul’s story is just one of the many quiet miracles that take place every day at Thorncroft Equestrian Center and Quest Therapeutic Services. These two non-profit organizations help both children and adults with any of a wide range of cognitive, physical, and emotional conditions, such as autism, brain injury, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and many more.

Thorncroft Equestrian Center has been studying the movements of the horse since 1971, and has been using this research to provide therapy to both children and adults ever since. When a person sits on a walking horse, the unique motion created by the horse engages the rider’s hips and subsequently teaches the human body the correct motion of walking. Riding students who have never learned to walk or have suffered from traumatic injury are able to gain balance, strength, mobility, and self-esteem with this type of therapy.

Thorncroft offers a wide range of accommodations for its riders, including: private and group lessons, indoor and outdoor lessons, therapeutic riding for those in need of it, and training for anyone interested in going into the field. More than 150 men, women and teenagers volunteer at Thorncroft, and Thorncroft attributes its success to the hard work and dedication of its staff. Their work gives them not only a sense of accomplishment, but of purpose.

Sallie Dixon of Thorncroft’s Board of Directors said, “For me, it’s the best gift in life to be able to be a part of this community and this work. This is my life.”

Quest Therapeutic Services focuses its efforts on children. Founded by Sandy McCloskey in 1996, the organization initially served six children once a week. McCloskey said, “I had a lifelong love of horses and children. I was able to combine my horse skills with my pediatric [therapy] skills.” Today, Quest has expanded to serve more than 200 children per week with a full staff of medically certified therapists, instructors, trainers and volunteers.

Therapeutic riding is only one of many therapeutic techniques that Quest offers. Quest provides both assessment and recommendations pertaining to early intervention; physical, occupational and speech therapies; hippotherapy; and school-based therapy.

In addition to the hard-working patients and dedicated staffs of the Thorncroft and Quest communites, one more essential group deserves credit for its hard work: the horses.

Thorncroft has a stable of 40 horses while Quest has a core team of seven therapy horses. It takes a unique kind of horse to be able to work with special-needs patients. Horses that are engaged in therapeutic riding must be gentle, patient, and strong. An excellent example of this type of horse is Peanut Butter, part of the Quest family. Peanut Butter is a chestnut Haflinger gelding, famous for pulling a sleigh with jingle bells in the winter and proudly representing Quest in Kennett Square’s Mushroom Festival in 2009 and 2010.

Both of these organizations continue to use their knowledge and experience to provide assistance to those in need. However, running a non-profit organization is a complex and strenuous process that creates a necessary dependence upon donations.

“Finances are the first [hardship] that comes to mind,” Ms. Dixon said. “Educating people to our mission is very difficult. I hope that we can reach out to more people through means of publications and one-on-one interactions; people are always welcome to come and visit us!” Not only do these two organizations depend on monetary donations, but they need donations of horses as well.

If you or anyone you know may benefit from this type of therapy, Thorncroft and Quest operate year-round and offer affordable services. If you would just like to offer support, donations are always appreciated. You, too, can help make a miracle happen.