Written by Christy Hinko Friday, 07 September 2012 00:00
On Aug. 26, Allison Ekberg, a sixth-grader at Wisdom Lane Middle School, and her horse Remo, were dubbed grand division champions in the Hampton Classic Horse Show, the elite horse jumping show, held in Bridgehampton each year.
Allison told the Tribune that she has ridden in many horse shows throughout the past couple of years. She explained, “Each time you ride you are given points according to how you place; last year I missed qualifying to go to the Hampton Classic, but I made it this year.”
In addition to this being a triumph for any 11-year-old rider, Allison has Asperger Syndrome (AS), an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Characteristics of AS include social interaction difficulties, and restricted behaviors, and repetitive patterns of behaviors.
Allison’s mother, Kristine explains that AS affects Allison socially. “She does exceptionally well with her grades at school,” said Kristine, adding that Allison learns well, and without extra help or additional school learning services. “She has worked so hard and has overcome many obstacles; she truly has a gift with animals and horseback riding in her passion.”
Allison has only been riding horses for about three years. She trains regularly at HorseAbility at SUNY Old Westbury. She tells the Levittown Tribune her secret to learning how to ride so well, “I go every week and do more and more each time.”
The HorseAbility Therapeutic Riding Program offers a wide range of horse-related programs to children, adults, and families with special needs to promote the physical, psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being of its participants.
HorseAbility began in 1993, when founder Kathleen Kilcommons McGowan lent her horse to a friend and physical therapist who used it as a treatment modality for a child with cerebral palsy. When McGowan saw the child’s physical and emotional connection with the animal and how her treatment accelerated through the use of the horse, she knew she had found her calling.
HorseAbility also started the Long Island Horse Show Series for Riders with Disabilities (LIHSSRD), the first of its kind for riders with special needs. The finals are held at the renowned Hampton Classic Horse Show.
HorseAbility reports: “Research shows that therapeutic riding students can experience physical, emotional and mental rewards. For individuals with impaired mobility, horseback riding gently and rhythmically moves their body in a manner similar to a walking gait. These riders experience increased balance, muscle control and strength. Riders can also experience increased confidence, independence, and self-esteem.
“The therapeutic riding is beneficial to individuals with psychological, physical, social, and emotional disabilities, including but are not limited to: muscular dystrophy, visual impairments, mental retardation, learning disabilities, hearing impairments, emotional disabilities, multiple sclerosis, amputations, anxiety, depression, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, developmental delay, autism, paralysis, brain injuries, pervasive developmental disorder, developmental disabilities, attention deficit disorder, and sensory integration disorder.”
Horse trainer Dina Assaro, and many other trainers and volunteers help Allison and other HorseAbility riders practice their skills.
“The best thing is that I’m with the animals. I love them, and I think they love me too,” Allison said. “We are friends and I like being with them.” She tells the Tribune that the only two things she doesn’t always like about riding horses is the weather and maybe an uncomfortable outfit or uniform.
Remo, among many other horses, is owned by HorseAbility, but is Allison’s dedicated riding horse; she says she wishes she could own her own horse someday. She continues to ride and practice, accompanied by her mom or dad each week, and hopes to continue to progress to the next level in riding.
Allison said horseback riding is good for everyone, including other kids because it’s a chance to make new friends and have fun. She said horseback riding is more than just riding. She said it’s a chance to learn how to take care of horses, like grooming and feeding them.
Mom Kristine said there are so many reasons why horseback riding benefits her daughter. “Physically it strengthens her body, and her core muscles, it increases her posture and balance.” She added, “It’s wonderful for her self esteem; she has truly blossomed from riding. It’s wonderful as a parent to see their child do so well in something they love.”