My daughter was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age three. Although we had been searching for answers for Savannah’s delays for over a year and a half the official diagnosis came as a sucker punch. Before the autism diagnosis was official, I would rationalize her delays. I would say things like, “Once she gets over this speech delay, she will catch up with her peers.” Or, “She doesn’t understand because language is difficult for her, once she figures out language she will get back on track.” One evaluation after another we finally found ourselves in a developmental pediatrician’s office, and he said the words I dreaded, “She has autism.” I knew this meant a lifetime of struggles for my sweet girl, and it broke my heart. For me, I coped through running.
After the diagnosis, we were flooded with therapy. Savannah was already receiving Speech Therapy every week, and we added Occupational Therapy and Applied Behavior Therapy to the schedule. All of Savannah’s therapy became a part-time job for her and most of it was not very fun.
Finding Simple Changes Therapeutic Riding
I began searching for something she would enjoy and would help build Savannah’s social/emotional skills, verbal commands, confidence, focus, and strength. That’s when we found Simple Changes and therapeutic riding.
Simple Changes was founded in 2005 to significantly improve the lives of individuals with physical, emotional, and developmental disabilities through riding and caring for horses. Simple Changes currently serves about 50 clients per week. It offers therapeutic riding, hippotherapy, dementia programs, and serves warriors in transition, at‐risk youth, and brain injury services. People served range in age from 2 to 80 years old including individuals with special needs such as autism, cerebral palsy, developmental delay, stroke, epilepsy, Down syndrome, learning disabilities, and more.
Savannah began therapeutic riding which is a recreational form of horseback riding that teaches riding skills with additional supports as needed. For example, Savannah has trouble with focus and core strength. When she rides there is a volunteer that leads the horse. Another volunteer walks beside the horse to ensures Savannah is safe. Every rider receives different support based on their needs.
The Impact of Simple Changes and Therapeutic Riding
Savannah works on verbal commands to “her” horse Reba, the use of the reins, and balance. To help with her balance and core strength sometimes she rides backward or has to place items in a mailbox.
Since she began riding, we have seen marked increases in her confidence, language and voice projection, posture, core strength, and ability to follow instructions. Sounds like just a list, right? In reality, this list of increased abilities equals and increased quality of life for Savannah. The skills Savannah is gaining from Therapeutic Riding and the AMAZING people at Simple Changes translate directly into Savannah’s everyday life. The increase in focus and ability to follow instructions has increased Savannah’s academics and learning. Her increased core strength, allows Savannah to sit and focus on school for longer periods of time. Due to her increased confidence, language, and voice projection, Savannah is making friends and communicating better with her peers.
Riding therapy at Simple Changes has made a huge impact on Savannah and the lives of many others facing hardships. It is a special place that she can be herself and enjoy the freedom of being on a horse. They are currently holding a fundraiser so they can continue to support those in need.
The Future of Simple Changes
For the past 15 years, Simple Changes has leased a riding facility from the Bureau of Land Management near Lorton, VA. Unfortunately, the Bureau will not renew their lease this year and they must move by September 30. Leaving Simple Changes with a few options to continue their amazing work. Luckily, a perfect farm recently came on the market that would allow Simple Changes to continue to serve this community. Simple Changes is seeking donations for a down payment on this once in a lifetime opportunity.
When I think about organizations I typically give to, I favor nonprofits that serve: veterans, the elderly, children, and the disabled. Simple Changes serves all of those people and their families. If you are able, please donate to help Simple Changes continue their remarkable mission of serving those that are in the most need.
Contact Simple Changes staff for more information at [email protected] or 703-402-3613.