Grant may allow Trio Horse Therapy of Eagle to reopen its doors to Eagle County students | VailDaily.com

Grant may allow Trio Horse Therapy of Eagle to reopen its doors to Eagle County students

John O’Neill
Special to the Daily

EAGLE COUNTY — A grant awarded last week to Trio Horse Therapy, an Eagle-based equine therapy provider, may allow the company to once again work with Eagle County School's Transition to Life and "Extended School Year" programs and would impact more than 80 local students with physical or intellectual disabilities.

Locals Lauren Shaeffer-Cremonese, Amanda Moody and Kristi Moon launched Trio Horse Therapy in 2014. They did work with the school district in 2015. In 2016 there wasn't enough money in the district's budget to pay for the program. The company looked elsewhere and found part of their answer in Oscar Blues' CAN'dAid Foundation, which seeks to make a difference in communities.

"We would be so happy to be able to provide these programs again for the kids," said Shaeffer-Cremonese. "We try to get kids who wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to do a day camp experience. We give them exposure to being outdoors at the same time offering equine therapy that can be very effective."

Full approval to reintroduce the program depends on the district's willingness to subsidize the remaining costs, said Julie Goldberg who is the assistant director of Exceptional Student Services for the school district. A proposal has already been put forward.

"What I can say right now is that we really enjoyed working with Trio in the past and hope we can do it again soon," said Goldberg.

The program would focus on hippotherapy, equine-facilitated learning and therapeutic riding. In addition to hopefully working with the school district again, Trio Horse Therapy works with Mountain Valley Developmental Services and Eagle County Health and Human Services. They also work with private clients.

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Shaeffer-Cremonese holds her doctorate in Physical Therapy and has seen the difference these equine therapy programs can make in kids and adults with disabilities when compared to therapy done in a clinic.

"These therapies are a wonderful adjunct to traditional occupational and physical therapies for people living with certain conditions or recuperating from a traumatic event that has led to significant physical and cognitive challenges," Shaeffer-Cremonese said. "It is also a strategy for people suffering from certain social or emotional impairments such as learning disabilities or behavioral challenges."

The science behind hippotherapy

Hippotherapy is defined as the use of horseback riding as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment, especially as a means of improving coordination, balance and strength.

From a physical perspective, riding the horse engages neurological, sensory and movement systems in humans because a horse's gate — stride length, cadence, foot strike pattern — is very similar to that of a human.

"When a person rides a horse, they get this neurological input and a rhythm that helps stimulate different systems in our bodies," Shaeffer-Cremonese said. "This helps people build useful muscle, improve balance and might improve ability to walk if that is someone's impairment. Say someone has MS; riding a horse naturally stimulates normal functions for that person. It can help with a number of things, even respiratory problems."

Then there is the mental side of it. Horses are what are called prey animals, meaning they have keen emotional awareness. It is a survival mechanism that allows them to sense threats from a potential predator. It is that same mechanism that makes horses such a great reflection of emotion in humans. For instance, a horse can sense nervousness and fear and might reflect that by trotting away.

Similarly, horses crave strong leadership. Spending time with the horses is a way Trio Horse Therapy helps people to develop emotional awareness of themselves and those around them, as well as leadership skills.

"We work a lot with families on the private side of things," Shaeffer-Cremonese said. "A lot of it is based around trust issues within a family. We look to the horses to help figure out what that social-emotional kink might be and also use the horse to rehab that."

Trio Horse Therapy also uses equine facilitated learning, an education approach that facilitates personal growth, social development and other life skills. There is also therapeutic riding, or riding a horse for recreation or sport to boost morale.

Making equine therapy available

Shaeffer-Cremonese started volunteering for a center in Bozeman, Montana, that offered equine therapies in 2000. She was immediately drawn to the impacts she saw the therapy have on kids and adults. She has since spent 16 years working in different programs across the country while pursuing her education in physical therapy.

She has observed breakthroughs using hippotherapy that she couldn't ignore. She saw patients at a hospital in Colorado Springs walk independently for the first time following this therapy. She also saw, many times, kids make vast mental improvements after working with the horses.

Shaeffer-Cremonese graduated from Battle Mountain High School in 2000. She returned in 2011 knowing there was nothing like this offered in the Vail Valley. She decided to start the program alongside Moody, an occupational therapist, and Moon, a Gestalt Equine practitioner. The three have two horses, Cisco and Ace.

"It gives people an activity to call their own and the disguise is that while they are riding a horse they are getting therapy," Shaeffer-Cremonese said. "I knew I was very passionate about this and helping people. Now I get to share my love and knowledge for these therapies with Eagle County."