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Salina Area Therapeutic Riding Service Helps Underserved

Last year, Brittney and Nathaniel Berg started going to New Heights Therapy, a therapy horse ranch, with their son Murray, 3, and daughter Paili, 9. Murray, who has cerebral palsy, faces challenges that her parents believe therapeutic riding can help.

Therapeutic riding helped Murray practice a variety of muscle movements, Brittney Berg said.

“He really likes it,” she said. “You know, with kids like him, they don’t play baseball, they get fun therapy, and that’s something different.”

Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Salina

A short drive from Salina, Kelley Hulteen runs New Heights Therapeutic Riding, a nonprofit ranch.

New Heights Therapeutic Riding is located at 4409 North Wasserman Way in Salina, Kansas.

The ranch is located a quarter of a mile from Wasserman Way, a gravel road off Shipton Road, a few miles from town. Since 2018, the local business has been helping clients with therapeutic riding, adaptive riding, and equine-assisted learning.

Hulteen started her business with family horses after being inspired to help underserved populations in the community – people with physical or cognitive disabilities, sensory processing disorders, trauma and depression.

Although New Heights is not limited to underserved people, they are considered priority customers.

“I work with children with disabilities and children with depression and trauma, but children with disabilities have so few opportunities that they’re kind of my first to plan because they just don’t have the chance. to go do a lot of other things,” Hulten said.

How therapeutic riding helps

Kelley Hulteen leads the horses to a practice area with clients August 24 at New Heights Therapy.

Each serve provided by New Heights allows Murray to use his muscles differently, making some muscles weaker and others stronger. It’s a unique workout plan that mimics walking – a childhood milestone that Murray has yet to achieve.

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The movement and motion of the horse that mimics human walking is difficult to naturally replace in any other way, Brittney Berg said.

When riding, Murray dons a blue and black riding helmet, part of his riding uniform.

The Bergs participate in the summer session, once a month from June to October.

“In the year since they started coming, Murray has seen real progress,” Brittney Berg said.

Hulteen and Brittney Berg guide Fritz, the horse Murray chose to ride on Wednesday, through the small course closed around barrels marked “faith” and “hope.”

Fritz decided when he was going to stop and go.

“He’s the boss here,” Hulteen said with a chuckle.

Nathaniel Berg documents the daily adventure with an image.

After 20 minutes of driving, Murray’s mother helps him get Fritz down. The two share a hug as Hulteen opens the door.

Although Hulteen is a licensed occupational therapy assistant, what she does through the riding service is not therapy practice.

It’s a common misconception, she says, that when people read about therapeutic services, it means doing the therapy.

Instead, the service she provides is another type of quality care with therapeutic value.

Kelley Hulteen leads Fritz for one final lap in the New Heights Therapy training area.

Heather Day, a family friend of the Bergs, also occasionally accompanies Murray for his therapy sessions. She said the benefits go beyond the physical aspect of driving.

“I love helping Murray and being with the horses; I think, you know, horses are just therapy for everybody,” Day said.

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A growing community

Therapy riding services are spread across the United States, but New Heights is the only such facility within 50 miles of Salina.

This year, Hulteen’s customer base has grown to approximately 50 individuals and families. In addition, 30 people received scholarships so that they could participate in therapeutic riding on a weekly basis.

New Heights now sees 20-25 clients per week in its spring, summer and fall sessions.

Movement and strength training is just one of the ways therapeutic riding has helped Hulten’s clients. Through various riding exercises, balance, coordination, flexibility, posture, strength and endurance can also be improved.

Services beyond riding

Hulteen said a child used the facility for bereavement support after losing a parent. The child found peace in the presence of the horses, Hulteen said, and the child’s mother said his smile was the first she had seen after visiting the ranch in a very long time.

New Heights has five horses: Fritz, Axel, Mose, Livvy and Radio Flyer; with a pony, Petunia. All horses are used to some degree.

A few horses are best suited for beginners, while others are set up for more advanced riding lessons.

“And the pony, well, she’s more geared toward non-equestrian interactions,” Hulteen said.

Hulteen said she has always enjoyed working with children and has a heart for children with special needs.

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It was her love for what horses do for people that drove her to start the business.

“When you have a kid who has a disability, you know, it’s tough,” Hulteen said. “Here they can fend for themselves and succeed.”

Some of Hulteen’s former clients have stayed on as teen volunteers who help people through the riding process and connect with other program participants. Hulteen said she enjoys seeing volunteers be the client’s “cheerleader” along the way.

Paili Berg brushes Fritz in New Heights before the start of training on August 24.

Getting some children to do a lot of physiotherapy can be difficult. But when a horse and a strong support system are involved, Hulteen said, it can be easier and more motivating to practice strength, coordination and fine motor skills.

Having the support system and a place where success can be easily celebrated can have a calming, belonging effect on her clients, Hulteen said. “It leaves a lasting impact on families.”

During the summer, it’s common for customers to schedule evening driving times when the sun is less harsh and begins to outline the Kansas countryside.

They usually make the journey beyond the barbed wire fences and quietly, momentarily forgetting their boundaries.

And just as some fence posts seem shorter around the growing grass, so do the obstacles that Murray Berg and others face every day.

“Last year he lay down almost all the time, and this year he’s able to sit up,” Brittney Berg said, holding Murray in her arms. “So with our other therapy, on top of that, I think he’s getting stronger.”