For the past three years, Spring resident Krista Addis has been taking her developmentally and intellectually disabled daughter, Mikaela Addis, horseback riding at a local nonprofit called SIRE. While Mikaela has a language delay and struggles with balance, Krista said her daughter looks forward to her weekly riding lessons,
“It’s helped her mostly stay focused on the task at hand, whether it’s [immediate tasks like]holding the reigns, [or]keeping your feet in the stirrups and listening,” Krista said. “But it’s spilled over onto other tasks, like staying focused on doing a coloring project.”
SIRE is a therapeutic horsemanship facility that serves both adults and children with a variety of special needs, such as autism, Down syndrome and multiple sclerosis, as well as traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. The organization has four locations, including one on Sloangate Drive in Spring, and its mission is to improve the lives of people with special needs by developing physical strength, balance, coordination and social skills.
“When the rider gets on the horse, they are immediately put in a seated position,” said Shayna Bolton, site manager of the Spring location. “They are engaging their core … Gravity is pulling their weight down so they are stretching ligaments and muscles.”
The horse’s gait is also very similar to a human gait, so clients who cannot walk on their own still obtain some of the benefits of walking, such as improved posture and pelvic control.
“For somebody who is not walking or is learning to walk, that horse is helping [the rider]retain that muscle memory and also get stronger,” Bolton said.
In 2000, SIRE merged with another center near George Bush Intercontinental Airport, bringing services to Spring, The Woodlands and northeast Harris County. When the Spring location opened, it only served four riders and had no electricity, arena or stalls. Today, the facility serves 75 riders with 13 horses, Bolton said.
SIRE’s Executive Director Joe Wappelhorst said the Spring location is still in need of a restroom—only a porta potty is available—and they are always searching for more volunteers and funding. The biggest restriction the organization faces when it comes to accepting new riders is available funds, Wappelhorst said. SIRE relies on grants, fundraisers and donations to remain afloat, he said.
Volunteers can assist with walking along the horses and riders and teaching lessons, among other tasks, Bolton said.
In addition, riders must meet certain criteria to be considered for the program, Bolton said. SIRE selects riders that have potential to benefit through the program.
William Cray is one example of a rider who visits the Spring location on a weekly basis. Clay, who has developmental and intellectual disabilities, said he has competed in multiple riding competitions, including the Special Olympics and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
“[My favorite part of riding is] that I get to be in control,” he said.
SIRE Therapeutic Horsemanship
4610 Sloangate Drive, Spring