GEAR Students Saddle Up for Success

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The Blue Valley School District has an amazing group of educators, and among them are Special Education Teachers Janelle Hilger and Ryan Worland with the GEAR (Growth, Education, and Reflection) Program.  In November 2017, they applied for a teacher grant from BVEF and were awarded $2,000 for a special project- a therapeutic horse-riding program for their students.

Q. The GEAR program works with students to achieve success behaviorally and academically. Why did you think therapeutic riding would be a good fit for them?

A. We were looking for opportunities for student growth in the areas of physical, psychological, cognitive, and social learning. The therapeutic riding program at Heartland helped meet those needs.  Physically, riding a horse takes balance and muscle strength. Psychologically, our students could use impulse control and patience skills. Cognitively, they had the opportunity to follow directions, stay on task, complete tasks both individually and as a group, and socially, they engaged with others, showed empathy, and had fun!

Q. Besides having a wonderful experience with the horses and each other, what were the most significant achievements of the therapeutic riding project?

A. Watching their self-esteem grow! Throughout our weeks at Heartland, it was fantastic to see our kids’ frequent smiles, laughs, and increased confidence! On a regular basis, students were demonstrating leadership and the ability to take age-appropriate risks and try new skills with the use of the horse and therapeutic vaulting program. A few of the kids are even being taken into consideration for potential volunteer opportunities at Heartland and many kids- and their parents- expressed a desire to keep riding over the summer.

Q. This pilot project was available because of a BVEF grant. Would you encourage other educators to apply for these types of special programs?

A. Yes! We are optimistically hopeful that this program will continue and have been in active discussion with the treatment team at Heartland Therapeutic Riding to identify the most appropriate structure necessary, fine tune certain aspects of the program, blend in more intentional supports and exercises to continue to foster the richest skill development for participants. We are grateful for the expertise and flexibility they have offered to our program this school year and their collaborative problem solving, as we individualized the curriculum to meet our student’s needs. Thank you BVEF for this opportunity!