On Eagles Wings

By Amy Wallace, Autumn Lonon, and Josh Marshall

Jacob Allen has severe autism.  For the past three years, Jacob has been going to On Eagles Wings, a non-profit organization that does therapeutic horse riding for those with disabilities.

Jacob Allen riding Blaze during a therapy session at On Eagles Wings.
Photo Courtesy: Karen Allen

Karen Allen, Jacob’s mother, said when Jacob began to get older; he became more rigid and lost range of motion. Since coming to On Eagles Wings, he has become more relaxed and comfortable.

“One of the things we noticed immediately that was great was that after he rode for even twenty minutes his arms started to come down or he would hold on a little bit and he seemed to really relax him…he just continued to feel more and more comfortable,” Allen said.

Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills. Some characteristics of Autism are the lack of social interaction as well as severe restriction in interests and activity involvement, including repetitive type behaviors (DSM-IV, 2000). Horse therapy is shown to help improve motivation for children with autism while giving them a routine oriented therapy session.

Owner and founder Carol Petitto started On Eagles’ Wings in 2007. On Eagles’ Wings does a variety of different therapies. On Eagles Wings website says they have all types of disabilities that can be helped by equine assisted activities.

Petitto says On Eagles Wings volunteers are certified to work with participants from the ages of four and up for therapeutic riding, and approximately two-years-old and up for

Dr. Carol Petitto, Jacob and Blaze before Jacob’s therapy session.
Photo Courtesy: Karen Allen

hippo-therapy.

“The basis of therapeutic riding and hippo [therapy] riding is the fact that the horse’s motion is three dimensional,” Petitto said. “It is front to back, side-to-side, and rotation in a circular motion. That is the exact same motion as the human walk, so in a thirty to forty minute riding lesson you get three to five thousand rotational movements.”

Petitto says that the repetitive rotational movement cannot be found or replicated in any type of physical therapy.

“Someone who doesn’t have the ability to walk can actually improve the muscle tone, muscle memory, central nervous system, the brain can all be trained with that walking motion can actually create the ability to start walking or improve that little mobility someone had with the same cognitive issues,” Petitto said.

The three dimensional gait of the horse helps normalize the sensory-motor systems, which helps the nervous system with the ability to improve cognitive and language responses and it also improves trunk and muscle control, necessary for speech.

Natalie Doerr is a West Virginia University student with multiple sclerosis. Doerr rode a horse at On Eagles Wings as a therapy demonstration.

“It was very relaxing just to be able to ride,” Doerr said. “I can definitely see how going on a regular basis can help people.”

Petitto says the work at On Eagles Wings is very rewarding.

“It changed my life, I went from not really having a strong purpose in my life to being totally positive that what I’m doing is the right thing,” Petitto said. “I wish I could live another hundred years so I could keep doing this.”

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