Pittsburgh equine therapy programs offer life-changing support to kids with special needs
August 28, 2019
When Mason Markosky was born 14 weeks premature, he was left with brain damage and irreparable injury to his airway. Along with a diagnosis of Costello syndrome and cerebral palsy, his parents were told Mason was not likely to survive. Despite those odds, today he is 19 years old and capable of walking on his own. The remarkable change is due, in large part, to riding horses.
Mason’s healing process with horses began at age 3. Still unable to bend at the waist or perform simple motor skills, Mason’s parents enrolled him in hippotherapy, a physical therapy named after the Greek word for horse. A horse’s gait moves a rider’s hips and pelvis, facilitates breathing and strengthens muscle tone, which is an added bonus for kids with limited or no mobility.
His mom, Cat Markosky, was skeptical at first. “He was so fragile,” she says. “I couldn’t even sit hi...
Catherine Markosky’s stable of nine therapy horses have important work to do.
On any given day, they might help a child with special needs improve his motor or communication skills — or they could serve as a calming influence on a youth with behavioral problems.
Thanks to a new round pen that is under roof, they’re now able to assist clients at Markosky’s Ligonier Therapeutic Center year-round, no matter the weather.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind design,” Markosky said of the pen. “We were losing a lot of (therapy) sessions because of the weather. We can now have sessions in the rain, wind or snow.”
Markosky officially unveiled the new pen Friday during an open house at the Cook Township center attended by officials of the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Regional and Ligonier Valley chambers of commerce. The center opened in August 2016.
Excessive activation of stress response systems affects the brain and other organ systems in many ways.
When we feel threatened, our body prepares us to respond by increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones. When stress response systems are activated within an environment of supportive relationships, these physiological effects are moderated and brought back down to baseline.
BUT, if the stress response is extreme and long-lasting— and supportive relationships are unavailable— it can overload multiple biological systems.
Constant stress depletes precious energy the brain needs for healthy development in both children and adults.
Chaotic, threatening, and unpredictable situations and environments that activate the “fight or flight” response repeatedly or excessively can make it difficult to engage executive function skills—the underlying skills we all need to plan, focus, adjust, and resist impulsive behaviors.
Frequently experiencing circumstances that seem beyond our...
On 10/10 a group of 4 to 8 year old children from the easterseals school visited the STAT Ligonier Therapeutic Center. It was sunny and warm, bright blue skies and a slight breeze; yes, it was a perfect day!
Two big school buses pulled into the facility and 13 children emerged with their 1:1 caregivers. Smiles of excitement and hope filled their little faces. My staff and volunteers were excitedly nervous; we'd been planning this day for some time now.
The Easterseals Western and Central PA School program specializes in providing quality individualiezd special education and therapy services to both Early Intervention (EI; ages 3-5) and School Age children (ages 5-8) with autism and multiple disabilities. I thought that this needed to be explained because, as a parent of two boys, one with autism and one with significant medical and multiple disabilities, I NEVER knew that easterseals had (3) school programs! I obviously knew of easterseals... who hasn't? but a school program was ne...
EAGALA is an acronym for the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association, an organization founded in 1999 that is now located in 41 countries around the world and more than 2,000 certified members.
I am a certified EAGALA Equine Specialist and utilize the model as a foundation for my Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy and Equine-Assisted Learning programs here at the Ligonier Therapeutic Center. As defined by the requirements for EAGALA certification, I qualify as an equine specialist and I work with a team of mental health professionals and other equine specialists.
Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) and Equine-Assisted Learning (EAL) are experiential approaches designed to help clients identify, face and work through life issues.
Clients dealing with mental health issues that are often treated in traditional counseling practices, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, grief, addiction and behavior modification, are excellent candidates for EAP.
Data Shows Significantly Reduced PTSD Effects for Service Members, Veterans and Their Families using the EAGALA (Equine-Assisted Growth And Learning Association) treatment model.
For too many veterans, active duty military, and the people they love, the effects of trauma can tear lives apart, their marriages and families. The reality is that military service members who are receiving traditional, office-based “talk therapy”, consider it ineffective or worse, disgraceful. This kind of treatment – no matter how skillful or well-intentioned the clinical practitioner is – can feel submissive. Feelings that collide directly with the very culture and values of military people!
Therapy should not marginalize or stigmatize... Treatment must connect to an individual in a genuine way - with the culture and mindset of the people it’s designed for. Healing will not come otherwise.
STAT offers 50 minute therapy intervals or day-long retreats, and eventually weekend retreats. The newest program called...
Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy in which a therapist uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully graded motor and sensory input. A foundation is established to improve neurological function and sensory processing, which can be generalized to a wide range of daily activities.
Unlike therapeutic horseback riding (commonly known as the PATH Therapeutic Riding method) where specific riding skills are taught, Hippotherapy is the movement of the horse is a means to a treatment goal, utilizing the protocol as a treatment strategy. Hippotherapy has been used to treat patients with neurological or other disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy, severe arthritis, multiple sclerosis, head injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, behavioral disorders and psychiatric disorders.
Why are horses are used?
Movements of the horse encourage the rider to achieve a proper balance and posture. During a hippotherapy session, the horses m...
Ligonier, PA -- The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation have provided a fifth year grant for a total of more than $100,000 to help kick start the second and final development phase of the Center’s indoor arena project in Ligonier, PA. The Center opened in August 2016 offering therapy services to include equine-assisted psychotherapy and counseling, physical, occupational and speech therapy for people with physical and mental health challenges.
“Horses are the main element in the treatment plans as they have natural characteristics that facilitate positive emotional and physical changes in humans,”states Catherine Markosky, Owner and Operator of the Ligonier Therapeutic Center and certified Equine Specialist with EAGALA. “A horse won’t judge, they don’t care if you have a past, a zero balance in your bank account, or what your sexuality is… they give you a clean slate and this is what allows every client to work therapeutically through very challenging and often traumatic issues. It’s rema...
Here, at the Ligonier Therapeutic Center in Ligonier, PA, we have created an environment where at risk youth, veterans, military members and their families can come together to facilitate healing and strengthen relationships through equine interaction and outdoor activities in a peaceful farm setting.
In addition to mental health services, EAGALA at the LTC can also provide experiential education such as Leadership Development and Team Building with corporate groups or schools.