Zelienople nonprofit helps provide healing through horses, nature

| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 10:54 a.m.

Therapy goes way beyond four walls at Glade Run Adventures in Zelienople.

For children living with social, physical and mental challenges, the program offers nature-themed treatment through the use of various animal, horticultural and agricultural therapies.

By working with horses, for example, Glade Run Adventures Director Julie Wahlenmayer said it gives children a chance to interact with a subject that is accepting.

“(The horses) will listen to you and they have no opinion as to any of your problems ... they're very non-judgmental,” said Wahlenmayer, who has been working there for 17 years.

“It's a form of understanding and commitment.”

The therapeutic animal, horticultural and agricultural programs are offered through Glade Run Lutheran Services, a nonprofit organization that provides behavioral health, education, and social services to the Pennsylvania communities of Beaver Falls, Butler, Pittsburgh and Zelienople, according to Wahlenmayer.

Since the programs are individualized, children of all ages and special needs levels can get something out of it. Even some adults who are facing challenges attend. Their youngest right now is an 18-month-old who uses therapy to aid in balance and gross motor control, she said.

It's given Middlesex resident Liz Ward, whose three sons attend throughout the year, a chance for therapy that is effective yet “fun.”

“It makes a phenomenal improvement,” said Ward. Her oldest and youngest, at 10 and 7, both have autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Her 9-year-old has a mood disorder.

Since her sons don't really fit in with regular school activities, such as sports, and this offers them a chance to be part of something, especially when participating in the group functions during Glade Run Adventure's summer camps, which are held June through August.

In fact, it was at camp last year that her eldest made a friend on his own for the first time.

“That was really encouraging,” she said

Ward sees the therapy beneficial for any parent looking for a place to turn for a child with a challenge.

“It would be helpful for just about everyone whether they have an official diagnosis or not,” she said.

Ward's children enjoy both the horticulture and animal programs, especially the latter, which feature horses, barn cats, a miniature donkey, cow and chickens.

Caring and working with these animals offers the comfort and acceptance they need, according to Carey Bailey, who runs the animal program at Glade Run Adventures. Perhaps it's because the animals seem to listen and know what the children are thinking and feeling.

“I tell them, ‘the animals are there to help you understand yourself,'” said Bailey, 24.

One of the most used programs is equine therapy, which includes feeding, grooming, handling and exercising horses.

For those limited in mobility, riding a horse can help with stretching and using muscles that they would not use otherwise, said Bailey.

Wahlenmayer said those who are not mobile can experience the sensation of walking just by sitting on a moving horse as it gently sways back and forth. Or they can even drive a horse carriage.

For those with behavioral, social and mental challenges, Bailey said caring for and riding a horse gives them a feeling of empowerment and helps them work through any problems they are having that day.

And children with autism respond well with the horses and other animals because often they don't connect with humans, said Bailey, of Evans City.

But they are able to transfer those communication skills they make with the animals to people, she said.

“They rely on these animals to help them overcome (problems),” said Bailey, who has an equine management degree.

Along with the animal program at Glade Run is the organization's horticultural program, which is run by horticulturist specialist Joanie Lapic.

She said they focus on making plant-related crafts, growing cooking gardens and learning how to care for plants. Especially a benefit for those with emotional or autism spectrum disorders, caring for plants helps children feel productive, gain patience, and also provide valuable skills, said Lapic, who has a master herbalist certification.

And Lapic, of New Brighton, said just being out in nature is beneficial to many of the children.

In addition to horticulture, Glade Run Adventures also has an agricultural therapy program, said Wahlenmayer.

Many of the children attending these programs are part of the on-site St. Stephen's Lutheran Academy, which offers educational and therapeutic activities for students who need it. Other children come after school and/or during their summer camps, Bailey said.

Located on 325 acres on the Glade Run Lutheran Services location in Zelienople, Glade Run Adventures includes a handicap accessible greenhouse, patio garden, an indoor riding arena with a wheelchair-accessible mounting ramp, a covered outdoor riding arena, and multiple walking and riding trails, according to Wahlenmayer, of Freedom.

Glade Run Adventures is also a member of the PA Council of Therapeutic Horsemanship and a member of the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture.

While Glade Run Adventures caters specially to those with challenges, Wahlenmayer said they also offer horseback riding lessons for the “typical population.”

For more information, call 724-452-4453, ext. 1249, or visit www.gladerun.org. Also, Wahlenmayer said people can also see the campus during their Natural Arts Fair and Plant Saleset for Friday.

Natalie Beneviat is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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