Ever since ninth-grader Layna Malave was a young girl, she had always been fond of horses. Riding since she was four years old, Malave became serious about the activity about two years ago. She now attends lessons once a week, in addition to volunteering at InStride Therapy in Nokomis.
Malave began volunteering at InStride Therapy in August of this year. InStride specializes in the practice of equine therapy, which uses horses to aid people, similar to how other therapy animals aid people. They specifically use hippotherapy which, according to InStride Therapy, helps patients “…improve neurological function and sensory processing”. InStride Therapy helps people with disabilities and disorders to strengthen their muscles. The program also helps people who have a hard time socializing by giving them the opportunity to bond with animals to develop their social skills.
She volunteers every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. One of her responsibilities is side-walking, where she walks on the side of the horse while holding onto the leg of the rider to ensure their safety. Side-walking is important for people with disabilities because it helps them utilize and strengthen their back muscles. “The horse is walking at the same pace and has the same movement as a person would when they are walking. You are trying to get them to sit up straight and make them use their back muscles. Just to be able to do something for some kids, it would be a really big achievement to sit up straight and hold something in front of them for a couple of minutes,” Malave said.
The second job Malave is involved in is helping in the barn. She cleans the stables and works with the horses themselves. When she works with the horses, she grooms them and gives them food and water.
One of Malave’s favorite moments while volunteering occurred when she had received a hug from a little girl after she had helped her with side-walking. “It made me feel like I made a real difference in this person’s life, even if it was just a little one, at least I made them happy. It made me happy,” Malave said.
In the future, Malave plans to continue with equine therapy as a career option, ”I plan to do some sort of physical therapy in the future and even if it is not equine therapy, it still is good,” Malave said.