Children, adults with disabilities reach new horizons in EATA hippotherapy

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Head down Abbott Road to Ruth Arcane Park, and you'll likely come across the William C. Chamberlin Equestrian Center, which houses outdoor arenas used for the many equestrian programs and events that happen in Anchorage each summer.

Hidden in a corner of the campus, however, is the EATA-Mabry Arena, a place where kids and adults alike become part of Equine Assisted Therapy Alaska, the local non-profit dedicated to providing people with disabilities a lifelong learning opportunity through horseback riding.

"I don't know how to explain," said Jane Call, Head Therapist for EATA. "I just love this and love my kids."

For the adults and kids working with EATA, physical and emotional growth are cultivated through horsemanship.

"The kids come out of their shell, and they get so much work done on a moving surface," said physical therapist Sara Montgomery, who works with EATA through All for Kids.

She is one of a group of therapists who provide services to participants dealing with a range of disabilities, including autism and cerebral palsy.

"We have a whole balance," Call said. "We have independent riders working on social skills or anger issues, then I can give them that confidence to be a rider. Then we have other people on the other scale that can't use their arms and legs - so they'll never be independent riders - but I give them as much security and independence as I possibly can."

In many ways, EATA is a labor of love for Call, who brings the horses up - via a long journey by way of the Alaska Canada Highway - from Oregon each summer. With her small team, she then takes care of the horses in Alaska for about four months out of the year, feeding and watering them, grooming them, exercising and sheltering them. The more than half dozen horses she keeps near the arena for EATA use require warmups before each therapy session, and nearly constant monitoring outside of that.

"I can put a kid up on a horse, and he has that freedom, that power," Call said. "I love these kids. I do it for them.

"It just gives the kids such a sense of accomplishment," she said. "They're so proud. They're riding a big horse and taller than everybody. So it's a freedom. It's exciting."

Now that the group has a covered arena to use, EATA is looking at starting a winter program, but hasn't yet officially started one up.

"We have kids and parents who look forward to this all year round," Montgomery said. "Starting in October, they're like, 'Are we going to do EATA again? Are we going to do hippotherapy?' And they say, 'Am I going to see Blondie? Seven?'

"They know their sidewalkers' names," she said of the participants. "They know their horses, and it's something they look forward to every summer."

The group is always looking for volunteers to help with therapy sessions, and EATA accepts monetary donations as well. Click here for more information.

The annual EATA Cowboy Ball will take place at the Downtown Anchorage Marriott on Nov. 9. You can visit the EATA website for that information as soon as it is released.

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