The Circle P Ranch in Schriever operates like just about any other equine boarding facility, offering not just a place for horses to stay, but riding lessons that are so popular there is a three-month waiting list.
But the operation has a key difference in what offers, which is an opportunity for children who have special needs of various types to feel what it is to be on an equal footing -- or seating -- with any other person nearby, mounted on the obliging backs of two horses specifically chosen for the task.
“We choose the most gentle, and the most well-mannered horses for this, and so we are currently using only two of our horses for that purpose,” said Circle P owner and operator, Anne Parr. The two horses used for the therapy program are a palomino mare named Bunny and a black-and-white paint gelding named Hank. “We used to use a little pony named Little Mama but she is 30-years-old and has arthritis, so she has been retired.”
It all began about eight years ago when a woman who was a therapist brought her young daughter, who had difficulty with confidence in her speech, to take riding lessons.
“While communicating during the lessons she became more confident in her speech and confident as a person,” Anne said. “The therapist then recommended that I start offering therapeutic riding and she spoke to another therapist.”
After that, the service availability spread through word of mouth. Today six children are aided by the program.
The reasons therapeutic riding was recommended, Anne says, are as varied as each individual child. They have included cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and the lesser known Joubert syndrome, a rare condition affecting the brain and the brain stem that affects balance and makes for other challenges. Children on the autistic spectrum have also benefitted.
“The experience increases strength and mobility and it definitely has a psychological effect,” Anne said. “Children with mobility issues and other challenges, when they are seated on a horse and see others around them seated on horses and riding, creates for them a great equality. The rider is equal to all those other people for that time period.”
The movement of a horse, Anne said, is similar to the fluid movement of the human body and thus has a positive effect. Anne is not a therapist and has never claimed to be. But she knows horses and knows what she has seen them accomplish as a team with individual children.
The sessions last 30 minutes and are usually preformed once a week with each child. There is a cost -- $30 per session. In some cases when needed a scholarship has been provided allowing a child whose family might not have means to still benefit.
Anne, a modest and private person who does not seek publicity, is well-known in the Bayou Region’s equine community as someone dedicated to horses and who has done many good works to benefit horses and their owners.
When a child begins the therapy a parent and a handler will lead the horse on which a child sits. In some cases the child begins by just sitting on a horse until confident enough to be atop the animal while it is led.
“Those who become more capable we can bring into a larger pasture,” Anne said. “We also have an area known as a round-pen that has a deep sandy bottom, and we can let some children ride on their own in that because it is safer.”
Anne said that the therapy and the entire Circle P operation would not be possible without the help of her husband, Chuck and her daughter, Amy.
The family-run business got its start when Chuck and Anne moved to Terrebonne from Franklin, where Anne grew up, and where she had not had any experience with horses. But Amy received riding lessons, and one experience led to another, with the family buying the Schriever property on Water Plant Road about 20 horses now call home.
Anne said the success of using horses in therapy is rooted in what makes horses special no matter the task they are assigned.
“Horses bond with people unconditionally,” Anne said. “They don’t care if you are rich or poor, they don’t care about the color of your skin, they don’t care if you walk upright or sit in a wheelchair. Our therapy horses seem to have an innate sense that allows them to be the most gentle when special needs children are on their backs and they happily accept a hug and a horse treat as payment.”
For more information on Circle P Ranch visit www.circlephorseranch.com