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‘We can change children’s and adults’ lives’

Barrington nonprofit Walk On offers equine-assisted therapy to individuals

Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 11:48 a.m. CDT
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BARRINGTON – Walk On has changed Grace Primdahl’s life.

The 42-year-old was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis eight years ago. It was in a discussion with her doctor about her frustration at not being able to do the things she used to that therapy came up. Primdahl knew about Walk On since it is close to her home, so she decided to investigate.

“With MS, there’s a lot of things I can’t do anymore and it’s frustrating,” Primdahl said.

Walk On, 26665 W. Cuba Road, Barrington, provides equine-assisted activities to people with physical, cognitive, social and emotional disabilities. Walk On is organized for charitable and educational purposes to inspire people to advance to their highest potential.

Equine-assisted activities provide motivational, educational and recreational benefits that enhance an individual’s quality of life. Benefits come from the interaction with the horse. The gentle rhythmical gait of the horse moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to the human walk.

Primdahl, who rode as a child, signed up and has been riding since June 2012. She attends sessions twice each week. Since she started riding, Primdahl, of Fox River Grove, said it has given her more confidence, that her balance is better and it has increased her strength.

“It’s really worked strengthening my core, which is important because I’m going into a wheelchair kicking and screaming,” she said.

Walk On has offered lessons since February 2006. Lessons are offered Monday through Saturday at varying hours and are available in semi-private (up to two people), group (up to four people) and private if necessary.

Walk On can work with children as young as 3 and their oldest rider to date was 86 years old. Riders have had any number of disabilities or ailments, including autism, cerebral palsy, head trauma, Alzheimer’s, learning disabilities, behavior disorders and more.

“I will work with just about anyone who wants to come and have that kind of experience,” program director Mary Illing said.

Illing said the motion of riding a horse, which mimics the motion of a person walking, is great for people with disabilities in that it allows them to use their trunk muscles in a way they wouldn’t otherwise be able. It can help increase trunk balance, posture, the ability to hold up their head, and more.

“It’s fun,” Illing said of riding. “It’s something the majority of the public would like to do ... That’s a great thing for (our clients) –  it’s something everyone wants to do.”

Illing said it’s the changes she sees in those who come to ride that keep her addicted to giving lessons. They’ve had kids who have said their first words while riding.

“We can change children’s and adults’ lives,” Illing said. “You have a piece of helping someone through their lives.”

It’s more than just physical benefits that participants get, though, Illing pointed out. There also is the social and emotional connection with the horses. Walk On has seven horses it uses for lessons.

Walk On serves about 50 to 55 riders each week, and most riders ride once each week. There is a waiting list for high-volume riding times, but Illing said she does have some daytime slots available.

For Primdahl, riding has dramatically improved her life.

“It just opened up a new world to me,” she said. “Now I have something to look forward to.”

Primdahl said while MS has stripped her of so much of her independence, riding provides her a way to get that back, so much so that she wants to become certified as a therapy riding instructor.

“It’s honestly changed my life,” she said. “It truly has ... My attitude is, stay calm and Walk On.”

The nonprofit organization relies on volunteers and donations. Walk On’s Annual Spring Raffle currently is underway. Call 847-381-4231 to purchase a $10 ticket. First prize is $500 and second prize is $250.

Tickets for the “Peggy Brown: Centered Riding 2-day Clinic” also are available. While wearing a “skeleton suit,” Brown shows how the rider’s body works when riding in dynamic balance; demonstrates common riding faults and how they affect the horse and rider; and the “inside view” shows clearly when the rider is straight, balanced and using the body well.

“Anybody who comes here (and helps), anybody who gives us a dollar, is part of it,” Illing said.

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