Specialized equine services petition IL lawmakers to advocate fo - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Specialized equine services petition IL lawmakers to advocate for grant money

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JACKSON CO. -- Volunteers with the Specialized Equine Services and Therapeutic Riding program (SES) invited lawmakers to the Giant City Stables Friday, asking them to advocate for grant money in Springfield that could expand the therapy service.

SES wants to create a feasibility study that would track the demographics of patients using the program. That study would lay out the potential for the non-profit to expand its current facility or build a new one off-site. Volunteers say patients come from all around southern Illinois, but also travel from Chicago, Paducah and St. Louis.

"There's so many veterans just in this area alone that can be served by a program like this," said board member and military veteran Kevin MacDonald. "When a veteran comes here and does his or her training with the horses...they're building trust, they're building confidence again," he said.

Volunteers with SES say therapy using these horses not only helps veterans, but children with disabilities. Like Tommy, who is non-verbal with Cerebral palsy.

"Tommy couldn't even sit in the saddle," said his mother Rachelle Gray, also a board member. "He couldn't open his legs to get on the horse. They set up on that back more. And we've been riding six years now and now he sits in the saddle with his feet in the stirrups, independently, doesn't need anybody to hold him," she said.

A horse's hip movements mimic the feeling of walking for someone with Cerebral palsy. Volunteers say just eight minutes of riding is the equivalent to 20 minutes of a standard physical therapy appointment.

The program also helps transition inmates back to living in society upon getting out of jail. Establishing a healthy relationship with a horse can translate into their interactions with people.

"One of the kids...he said basically this was his last chance before prison," said board member Berardino Baratta. "And he said 'I now look forward to this program' because he said 'it keeps me sane the rest of the year.'" 

State Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) said he's excited for the program's future. He said funding should be a team effort from the state and outside organizations.

"With the budgetary challenges Illinois faces, I think we need to be looking at building partnerships. That's the most important thing," Schimpf said.

"I have had a couple of patients that have been right here at this program, so I know what it's done in their lives," said State Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie (D-Harrisburg). Phelps Finnie is also a nurse practitioner. She said she plans to advocate on behalf of the non-profit when the legislative session reopens.

The SES board has 29 horses, but say they need 35 to fully function. The service runs nine months out the year, with their off-season typically November - March.

Volunteers say the equine therapy is not covered under most health insurances, but should be. 

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