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Therapists, engineers compiling research to support recognizing equestrian therapy in health insurance industry

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GILMER (KYTX) - For 25 years, the Windridge Therapeutic Equestrian Center near Gilmer has used horses as therapy for kids, adults and veterans with disabilities.

People pay for this therapy out of their own pocket, because it's not recognized by insurance companies.

It's a typical spring day, but 21-year-old Kirsten Allums isn't on a typical horseback ride.

Since she was seven, she's had equestrian therapy to treat auditory processing disorder and expressive receptive language disorder. These disorders made it difficult for Kirsten to multi-task or even clean her bedroom.

"You had to sit in there with her and tell her one thing at a time," says Kirsten's mom, Stacy Spears.

That changed after six months of therapy with Windridge's six instructors and nearly two dozen horses, including Kate.

"If I was on Kate, her movement would feel like a snake, slithering was her movement to me. I can describe her movement to you on a certain horse," Allums says.

This therapy helps hundreds of patients, but they get no help with health insurance, because the industry does not recognize equestrian therapy. Windridge wants to change that.

"This is groundbreaking research, says Cameron Nott, a senior research engineer from South Carolina.

He's spent five days at windridge -- compiling data to prove this therapy has a true health benefit.

"What effect does walking speed have on a child's lumbar spine, you know, when the horse is walking at different speeds? Therapists know intuitively and from experience, but it's never been published in a scientific journal," Nott says.

Larry Courington is a Windridge board member.

"I think you'll see Washington take notice of this industry, not just here at Windridge, but all over the country, wherever people need this kind of therapy to be able to get on with their lives and be happy," says Courington.

Kirsten now volunteers at Windridge, caring for the horses. "I am helping others," she says, "by helping horses."

Her mom believes it's worth every penny.

"It exceeds Windridge, because she is able to communicate better with her family, with her peers outside of Windridge," Spears says.

And she wants this horseback ride to get the recognition she believes it deserves.

Windridge Executive Director Margo Dewkett says much of the work taking place at the therapeutic ranch wouldn't be possible without the generosity of East Texans.

Families, companies, even local church groups, give to scholarships that help defray therapy costs.
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