Local Pegasus riding program helps children with autism
HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP -- Annmarie McCoy used to be afraid of horses and wouldn't go near a barn.
Now, the 19-year-old is eager to get in the saddle and grins and giggles whenever she rides her favorite horse, Jr.
In June, the Heath teen began taking lessons through the Pegasus Program, a program designed by the Licking County riding academy Edgewood Equestrian to help children on the autism spectrum.
Annmarie's mother, Teresa McCoy, has noticed the difference in her daughter.
"She's been much more confident," Teresa said. "When she is on the horse, she talks and talks."
Using the recently developed Horse Boy Method, the Pegasus Program uses the bond between horses and riders to help children with autism make connections, said Lynn Edgington, owner of Edgewood Equestrian.
"There is something about sitting on the horse and moving, (children) start communicating," Edgington said.
A longtime rider, Edgington started Edgewood Equestrian more than ten years ago. Headquartered at the Licking County Equestrian Center, the riding academy offers dressage riding lessons for all ages.
In the past several years, Edgington noticed more and more of her students were children with special needs.
"Their parents started telling us what we did in regular riding classes had lasting results," she said.
She was looking for more ways to help her students when she discovered the Horse Boy Method.
The method was developed by Texas resident Rupert Isaacson as a way to communicate with his son Rowan, who has autism. Isaacson wrote a book "The Horse Boy" and produced a documentary about how riding and interacting with horses helped his son.
In May, Edgington, her husband, Russ Edgington, and four other Edgewood Equestrian volunteers traveled to Texas to meet Isaacson and were certified in the Horse Boy Method.
While in Texas, they practiced back-riding -- which involves an adult sitting behind a child and holding them during the ride -- and different ways to engage riders.
When she returned to Licking County, Lynn was amazed by how well her students responded.
"They can feel the motion of the horses, they just start talking. It's the coolest thing in the world," she said.
The Edgingtons decided to create the Pegasus Program to share the Horse Boy Method with central Ohio families.
"It's the only Horse Boy Method program within 300 miles," Lynn said. "We know the need for this is great."
Participants have to pay a fee to participate in the program, but the Edgingtons are working to start a nonprofit organization and begin fundraising.
Their goal is to provide free riding sessions to any child who needs them, Lynn said.
"We want people to know it's here for (people with autism) of all ages," she said. "We just want to help them to be part of the world."
For Andy Willmore, a Pegasus Program volunteer, it's rewarding to see the small moments when a child starts making connections.
Willmore, 20, was the first person on the autism spectrum to be certified in the Horse Boy Method.
"(I like) using my talents to help those who are similar to me," he said. "It helps someone else and I'm introducing them to a passion of mine."
For Annmarie, participating in the program gives her something to look forward to every week, her mother said.
"This has been one of the best activities she participates in," Teresa said. "It just makes her feel so big."