August 30, 2015
By Sienna Mae Heath
For twins Andrew and Gavin Burnard, therapy can be a fun adventure.
The twins, who have autism, rode horseback Thursday afternoon, discovering different textures through games and items found along the trail.
They are two of the approximately 100 children and adults who benefit from the nature-inspired therapy offered at Equi-librium.
The group dedicated its Equine Sensory Trail on Thursday at the 18-acre Fehr Farm, 524 Fehr Road, in Bushkill Township. ESSA Bank & Trust Foundation funded the project.
Equi-librium was founded in 2001. Every week, it provides therapeutic riding and carriage-driving programs for people with special needs such as autism and cerebral palsy, stroke symptoms, multiple sclerosis and social, emotional or behavioral challenges like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Instructor Christi Doyle, an East Stroudsburg University senior, developed and planned the trail with the collective effort of the center’s staff.
“It’s like therapy, but it’s fun,” Doyle said. “The horses’ movement is really what does the therapy.”
The trail was originally intended for people with visual impairment, to expand their senses. Doyle and staff steered it to people with mental or physical disabilities to help them connect with the world around them.
It’s similar to a real trail ride on horseback, but with more planned interaction, according to the press release.
The trail was constructed by Boy Scout Troop 187 for an Eagle Scout project: Scouts Austin Cooper, Jack Doyle, Dallin Phillips, Jarek Vogt and Matt Zebley built a bridge, road signs, stations and more. Murals and other paintings of animals were created by Eliza Peterson, member of the art club at Nazareth High School.
Exploring the trail
The trail experience provides a fun, rather than frustrating, way for children to experiment with their senses, Doyle said. When the horses walk on hard flat or soft grassy surfaces, the children can feel the difference. Ten stations along the trail provide an interactive learning experience for improving sensory integration, motor planning, hand-eye coordination, focus and balance.
The twins, Andrew and Gavin, both 7, of Bushkill Township, ride horses on-site Fridays and some Saturdays for demos.
On Thursday, Andrew rode the horse named Ben while Gavin rode the horse named Snickers. Zebley and Cooper guided them along the trail.
Amid nature, Andrew and Gavin soaked up the stimulation around them.
The first group of stations included games: tic-tac-toe and textured toys to throw through differently shaped holes. As the group rode and walked along a winding path, the boys discovered different textures attached to apple tree branches. They compared the textures of tires, carpet, tennis balls and tree bark.
Andrew noticed that rubbing his arm back and forth on the tennis balls sounds like the “clip-clop of horses.”
“This has a different texture,” Andrew said.
They picked apples for the horses to snack on and confidently told their horses to “Walk on!”
Coming upon a mural of animals, the boys played “I Spy.” Looking for different animals, whether painted or real, helps them improve their focus, Doyle said. A puzzle of animal tracks helps them improve their motor skills, she said.
Similar to the children on the trail, the horses gradually feel comfortable as they get used to the new smells, sounds and textures. The horses are not yet acclimated to the music station or log maze.
At the music station, participants can play pipe drums with flip flops and chimes with mallets. When the horses are ready, their riders can play with wind chimes hung on the trees. Christi’s son and Eagle Scout Jack Doyle created the music stations. Zebley made the road signs.
When the horses feel comfortable with the log maze, they will be led through interlocking water noodles.
At one of the last stations, participants can open containers of sand, pine cones and make-up sponges.
Gavin reacted particularly to the container of make-up sponges.
“This is my favorite to feel, but not to smell,” he said.
Michelle Burnard, their mother, said that they used to suffer from low core muscle tone and sensory integration issues. They were especially sensitive to loud sounds and dogs. Riding horses has helped them overcome their fears.
“There was one horse Magoo. He would always say hello and whinny,” Burnard said. “They were really scared, but this has really helped them a lot.”
Now the boys ride through life with confidence, she said.
More about Equi-librium
Equi-librium’s new sensory trail is unique to the Lehigh Valley and the Poconos. People who are unable to ride a horse can access the trail using a carriage to drive a horse.
The center received funding from Just Born to buy a large enough horse for the carriage. Approximately 30 volunteers from the company joined the total of 150 volunteers.
Equi-librium CEO Cheryl Baker, of Bethlehem started in April 2015. She had been commuting an hour to the Philadelphia area for her sales position at Radio Disney.
“Now I drive up to a fence and the horses greet (me),” she said.