Equine therapy in Clay County receives major accreditation

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HOLT, Mo. -- An equine therapy center in Clay County is getting special recognition for being one of the best in its business. They're giving people with special needs a ride to recovery.

The dog is known as being "man's best friend," but at the Northland Therapeutic Riding Center, it's horses that are being used to better the lives of people with special needs.

Managers at the center are celebrating a new accreditation from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. That's a governing body that certifies equine therapy centers as being among the best in the world.

Speech therapist Mary Jill Webber has operated the therapy center for 13 years, using the saddle as a means of strength for special needs riders.

"Therapeutic riding has been found to be very beneficial," Webber said. "It's very good for strengthening the core, for balance, a myriad of things."

The new accreditation can fortify this therapy center as a whole. Webber says the PATH International recognition can pay dividends in the form of incoming grant money.

"Our big goal is to have a therapy center here," Webber said. "A place where we can have seminars and occupational therapy and physical therapy and speech therapy."

Patients such as seven-year-old River Luck reap the rewards from their rides.

"We had fun walking and trotting," River said, after taking a therapy ride on an Arabian horse called Snuggles.

His father, Mike Luck, says River suffered a traumatic brain injury at the age of two, and after awakening from a coma, had to relearn to speak and walk. Before coming to the Northland Therapeutic Riding Center, he couldn't support his own weight.

"The week after we rode here, he was walking independently," Luck said. "These are things that happen that make you a real believer in it."

Webber says she's also thinking of starting similar riding therapy programs for wounded warriors and first-responders in need.

The Northland Therapeutic Riding Center says its new accreditation will be valid until the year 2019. The therapy program accepts special needs riders of all ages.

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