Therapeutic equestrian program helps Kodiak children thrive

Easton Foreman, 7, enjoys his time with Payday as part of Kodiak’s Therapeutic Riding and Equine Assisted Therapy Program.

Kodiak’s Therapeutic Riding and Equine Assisted Therapy Program assists children with neurodiversity autism spectrum disorders, developmental delays, learning difficulties and physical delays by enhancing their social skills and improving attention communication, sensory processing and motor coordination. 

The program, run in cooperation with the local 4-H organization, has been helping local children for nearly 20 years. In 2023, Providence Alaska invested $10,000 in community benefit to bolster the program. With this boost, Amy Stohl, OTR/L, M.Ed., an occupational therapist at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, and Barbara Zimmerman, the island’s only certified therapeutic riding instructor, say the program could serve more kids on Kodiak Island. 

Bristol Morris, 7, enjoys spending time with Danner, a 29-year-old horse. She often gets the opportunity to brush Danner’s thick coat during her visits. 

“I like that he’s tall and he’s really soft,” Bristol said.  

The program serves 19 children and requires at least 20 volunteers. In each session, there are at least three individuals per rider, including a therapist and horse handlers. 

“The kids can get really attached to their horses,” Stohl said. “They create bonds with them that help them socially and emotionally, and they can have big emotions. We let them know that is OK.” 

Seeing children thrive makes the countless hours they put in more than worth it. 

“That’s why you do it,” Zimmerman said. “You just see the progress in every kid; they are special.” 

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Kodiak 4-H at kodiak4h@gmail.com or 907-486-1534. 

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