HorseBuddies Family Play Dates: Families of children/adults with autism or developmental disorders attend weekly play dates that run from 1.5 hrs. to 2.5 hrs., depending on the season of the year. Parents and siblings join in the fun so that the entire family benefit from the relaxed stress-free farm, child-safe environment. Classes are conducted by a practitioner that is certified in the Horse Boy Method—an innovative type of therapy that is breaking through the barriers of autism.
Each child, whether they have a disability or not, is assigned a horse with a horse leader. In addition, each child has one or two side walkers who also, act as shadows for the child-led activities. The program is about communication, rule-based games, and activity transitions. Riding, horse tricks and interaction with farm animals encourage verbal communication. The Horse Boy method includes creating a safe environment where the child has the freedom to explore and where families can enjoy each other’s support. Play dates vary each time, and may not always include riding a horse.
The goal is to provide a stress-free environment, and integrate sensory work by letting a child or parent just sit or lie on a horse back to rest or talk, read a book. The horse is trained to stand quietly with the horse handler, while the participant’s stress behaviors melt away. Rule-based games, especially on horseback, help the rider participate and communicate with others in a non-threatening environment. Academics are introduced to the kinetic learner, and games on horseback are used to relax the rider and encourage verbal communication.
The difficulty relating to the exterior world can often be met with resistance with those that have autism, but in a natural, friendly environment a horse can help engage that person with others, and confidence emerges. Horses are taught tricks to encourage participants to be verbal. A child with autism quickly learns to command a 1000 lb horse by saying smile, bow, and then adding the horse’s name to the command.
Activities at a play date may include:
- Painting and decorating a horse
- Horse sensory work, and small animal sensory work— For example, bottle feed a piglet or baby goat, polka dot a pig with paint, hold the friendly cat or bunny, brush or wash the program dog, groom the mini horse or mini donkey.
- Trick train the dog or pig to sit, or perform horse tricks such as bow, look away, smile, and flap your lips,
- Hiking in a field, trail or farm road to the pond to catch tadpoles with a net, scavenger hunt, trail blazing with paint.
- Sand pile for sensory fun and canoe filled with small river rock
- Building snowmen, winter fun such as sledding down a bank with a volunteer
- Games on horseback might include rings, hoola hoops, flags, eggs floating in water to scoop, hide the carrots.
- Cones, poles, balls are also used.
Backyard wind-down is an important part of the play date. The backyard is fenced in with large shade trees and hanging hammock chairs, a large hammock, a double wooden chair wing, a tire swing, a rope swing and monkey rope and a basketball hoop. Volunteers are still supervising the children as well as parent involvement is used in backyard games. There are large cottonwood logs for climbing. Noodles for pretend swords fights, a chicken pen where the kids can throw seed through the fence, and there is the backyard corral where there are 6 young goats and two young sows. Join the HorseBuddies family and enjoy support, relaxation and watch your children blossom!