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Trip to Nickers and Neighs provides exercise, relaxation for Southmoreland Primary Center students

| Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Kelly Vernon | The Independent-Observer
Nickers and Neighs staff member Kayla Umbaugh helps Ethan Hensel, 8, get acquainted with Bria, the horse he would ride at the therapeutic riding recently.
Kelly Vernon | The Independent-Observer
Pictured from left: Southmoreland autistic support teacher Kelly Most expresses the joy of her students Ryan Miklos and Tori Ciarboli interacting with Speckles as Nickers and Neighs staff Kim Reynolds shows them how to brush the horse.
Kelly Vernon | The Independent-Observer
Pictured from left: Southmoreland Primary Center instructional classroom aide Adriaenne Neville with Cole Pollard, 7, and Ethan Foster, 6, learning how to groom Speckles with help from Nickers and Neighs staff member Kim Reynolds.
Kelly Vernon | The Independent-Observer
Pictured from left: Nickers and Neighs staff Jen Harbaugh, Kaleb Kramer riding on Buck with Lu McElhatten during Southmoreland Primary Center's recent field trip to the facility.

Amazing things happened when students in the autism support class at Southmoreland Primary Center experienced the world of therapeutic horseback riding at Nickers and Neighs in Donegal on a recent field trip.

Renee Miklos was brought to tears after viewing a video of her son, Ryan, interacting with the horses. She could not believe her eyes as she watched her son grooming and riding the horses, especially since Ryan has such a fear of all animals. She said he seemed so calm and grounded when he was riding.

Miklos added it was amazing to see the transformation of her son in such a short period of time working with the staff at Nickers and Neighs. She plans to register him for regular lessons at the facility.

“The facility and what they do for children with disabilities is simply amazing. I saw my son's personality coming out as he groomed and rode the horse,” she stated.

Lin Podolinsky, Nickers and Neighs executive director, visited Kelly Most's classroom at Southmoreland Primary Center prior to the field trip to meet the students. This was necessary to develop individualized lesson plans. Some of the students had lesson objectives of steering their horse independently, while others had goals of learning to communicate go and stop to their horses.

Upon arrival to the facility, the staff first introduced the students to the horse. After a brief introduction to the horses and therapeutic riding staff, the students mounted the horse. Students had an opportunity to warm up by relaxing and discovering the rhythm of the horse.

All of Nickers and Neighs instructors are Pennsylvania Council on Therapeutic Horsemanship Qualified instructors and Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International Registered instructors. They also are required to complete continuing education courses in the field that includes course work on topics such as autism spectrum disorders, and many other disabilities.

Podolinsky said riding is a sport that allows an individual to exercise the body in addition to the mind. Posture, balance, body awareness and core strength are all athletic areas that riding a horse addresses. Communication and understanding the signals that the horse gives also are important aspects of the sport. She added communication and understanding body language are both areas in which students with autism still need to develop.

“Helping kids overcome their fears is probably more rewarding to us as a staff than it is for the student,” Podolinsky said.

Most said the field trip was made possible by a Westmoreland Intermediate Unit Foundation Impact Grant worth $1,000. After researching the benefits of therapeutic horseback riding for children with autism, she contacted Nickers and Neighs. The staff at the facility provided Most with pilot studies, lesson plans and plenty of information to convince her that it would be a wonderful field trip for her students.

Another parent, Desiree Pollard, also was affected by the enthusiasm in her son after the field trip. Pollard said it took her son Cole away from his daily routine and introduced him to an exciting activity. She explained Cole's autism causes him to have difficulty relaxing and opening up around his peers. In the relaxed environment of the riding center, he let down his guard and emotionally bonded with the horse. Pollard was so pleased with the outcome, she contacted Nickers and Neighs to set up riding lessons.

“My students were elated with excitement as soon as we pulled onto the long driveway. The smiles on their faces were priceless,” stated Most.

Most said the staff at Nickers and Neighs used the horses to work on numerous thing such as strengthening social, communication and behavioral skills. Additionally, students worked on following and procession verbal directions, academic goals and physical development of gross motor skills, increased flexibility, balance and muscle strengthening. Most would like to make therapeutic riding an extension of her classroom work next year if funding was available.

“The staff at Nickers and Neighs took on an important role to ensure all of my students felt comfortable and safe with the horse. I was extremely impressed by their ability to stay positive even through my students' high level of anxiety and hesitation,” said most.

Most was impressed at the impact the field trip had on her students. She said some students showed confidence when riding their horse with instructors and a feeling of accomplishment with an activity that was outside their comfort level, displayed less repetitive behaviors increased speech and extended their language skills.

Kelly Vernon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-547-5722 or

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