SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A local riding center is catering to students with special needs. With every trot around the ranch, trainers are seeing a positive change in the riders.
"There's just something about working with animals that's just magic," says trainer Rebecca Palter.
The Ride Above Disability Therapeutic Riding Center is a place where students are grabbing the reins and leading themselves on a ride not controlled by their challenges. The Poway ranch caters to students with special needs of any kind.
"I saw things click that maybe weren't working with their physical therapist or speech therapy," Palter said.
Palter has been with the center for nearly five years. She says students have hit amazing milestones while working with the animals.
"I've had kids who have said their first words with me on a horse," says Palter. "Some students who may have behavioral challenges that decrease a lot after they're out riding with us."
Ten-year-old Ben lives with Autism. He's been riding at the center for about two years.
"To be around horses and to do something that may or may not be a little dangerous was very exciting to him but also just a huge boost in his confidence," says mom Malinda Danziger.
Each lesson is tailored to the student's special needs. They are strength-based, which means the rider gets to set their own goals. Due to COVID, the center has seen a drop in volunteers.
"We do have students where you need someone leading the horse and a person on each side," says Palter.
Before the pandemic, the riding center served 75 students. They are currently down to 55, with more than 20 on a waitlist.
"We're hoping to get a lot more volunteers to be able to serve students because the want and the need is there," Palter added.
The center also serves adults with special needs.