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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Illinois "Equine Dreams" Uses Horses To Help Those with Disabilities

YouTube published by Equine Dreams
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Article by Cathy Janek,  for The Beacon-News | Jan. 2017     
Windy Kopecky began volunteering for Equine Dreams when she was a college student at Northern Illinois University in 1998.

Over the years, she has moved farther and farther away from the nonprofit's 15-acre property in Newark. However, today even with a commute of about an hour and a half, Kopecky continues to volunteer for the organization, serve on its board, and is the head riding instructor—something she became certified to do in 2003.

Founded in 1996, by the parents of a child with special needs, Equine Dreams is run by an all-volunteer staff and doesn't charge its clients for services.

Each week, the organization provides therapeutic horseback riding and equine assisted activities and therapies to more than 100 children and adults with disabilities.

In 2015, the organization's volunteers logged in more than 94,000 hours, Equine Dreams officials said.

Some like riding instructor Barb Wrobel said she volunteers for children who may not be able to sit up by themselves; however, "when they are riding their horse, they sit so tall with a smile on their face and joy in their hearts."

Mare Tebrugge, a volunteer for more than 16 years said, "spending a day at Equine Dreams, among all the other volunteers, is the most uplifting day you will ever have."

All of Equine Dreams horses are certified by the national group Pet Partners.

"The horses have to pass a test to ensure they handle all the situations they are put into," Kopecky said.

In the process of raising funds to build two new barns on its 15-acre property, last year the organization was able to raise enough money to build the shells of the buildings, however, it is seeking to raise an additional $200,000 to complete the project.

Equine Dreams recently received two grants --one from the Leland Lions Club for $2,500 and another from the Community Foundation of Fox Valley for $10,000.

The Community Foundation grant will be used to purchase a tractor.

"A tractor keeps Equine Dreams future operating costs down through allowing us to manage our property independently. We will not have to hire someone to plow our drive in the winter, and will be able to manage our pastures and maintain our sensory trail." Kopecky said.

The Lions Club grant will be used toward the new barns which will include a new hay barn, larger indoor arena, a parent viewing room, indoor mounting area, stalls, and tack room.

"An indoor arena would prevent us from having to cancel lessons due to inclement weather or have students regress over the winter," she added.

There are so many benefits to therapeutic horseback riding and being around horses in general, Kopecky said.

"Our mission is to nurture the abilities of individuals and to provide the services without putting more of a financial burden on these families," she said.

When it began, the primary focus of Equine Dreams was to provide therapeutic horseback riding. Today, the program has evolved to also include several different types of equine assisted activities and therapies, she added.

"One of the biggest demands we have now is for visits from our miniature horses," Kopecky said. "We saw a need for serving individuals who for whatever reason couldn't come to us."

Equine Dreams' four miniature horses, Teddy, Levi, Maggie, and Beauty go out into the community visiting area hospitals and nursing homes.

At Central DuPage Hospital, the horses visit the pediatric oncology unit. These horses also visit Marklund Day School as well as one of its residential facilities.

"We work side-by-side with their physical, occupational, or speech therapist to help them work on their goals for the week," Kopecky said.

Activities such as brushing a horse can expand a person's range of motion, she said. For individuals who need to regain their walking strength, equine therapy can be having that individual lead a horse down a hallway.

Horseback riding works so well as a therapy option, because riding a horse provides three dimensional movement in your hips which mimics the same movements that occur when walking on the ground, she said.

For people that are working on physical disabilities, Kopecky said riding a horse can build their flexibility, work on their balance, and helps strengthen core muscles.

In 2014, Equine Dreams created a sensory trail on its property.

"It is a fun way for them to process sensory input—colors, sounds, and textures and engage in their surroundings," she said. "They have so much fun riding on the trail they don't even realize they are working,"

Cathy Janek is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News
Copyright © 2017, Aurora Beacon-News

For more information, visit Equine Dreams: http://www.equinedreams.org/

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