Eight-year-old Roman Scalph was excited last week to get up on a horse. He put on his helmet and was helped onto Griffin, a 19-year-old horse who works with students at Equine TLC.
“It was just last year when I started (riding),” he said. His favorite activity on Griffin is trotting.
Roman’s mother, Kim Scalph, said he has sensory integration disorder, a condition where his sensory processors don’t function at the same speed as everyone else. She said he couldn’t wear socks or jeans, felt like the world was out to get him or didn’t react to stimuli, such as wind, in a positive way.
After his initial diagnosis, Roman spent eight months in occupational therapy. When that was finished, his mother wanted to find something for him to do to keep up his progress.
Sports like basketball, football and soccer are difficult for him socially, so she ruled those out. That is when a friend of hers told her about Equine TLC, a nonprofit organization which specializes in equine assisted activities and therapy.
“He’s come so far,” Scalph said. She said after starting his equine therapy lessons last September, Roman has been able to try new things outside of his comfort zone like skiing.
“This has been really positive for him,” she said.
Liberty Lake resident Gail Pennestri, founder and teacher of Equine TLC (Therapeutic Learning Center), said she has 25 students with a waiting list of six. Each class is individualized to each student to fit their needs.
“Each client has their own goals of personal development,” Pennestri said. She teaches classes for children with Down syndrome, adults recovering from strokes, people with cerebral palsy and others.
She said her youngest client is 4. Her oldest is 72.
She started the program in 2003. She had been working with the Special Olympics when the organization had an equestrian team in Washington and Idaho, but the program lost its funding.
“We couldn’t not continue,” she said.
Pennestri runs Equine TLC from May through October in Post Falls. Her fundraising efforts include building an indoor arena so the horses and clients can work year-round. The second annual Denim & Diamonds dinner and auction will be April 30 at 6 p.m. at Mirabeau Park Hotel, 1700 N. Sullivan Road.
She relies heavily on volunteer help, and all are trained to North American Riding for the Handicapped Association standards.
Each class is $25 per student. Pennestri said that is about 50 percent of what it takes to run Equine TLC with food, veterinary bills, insurance and more.
Shelly Houn has been taking her daughter Amy, 10, who has Down syndrome, to Equine TLC for almost four years. Shelly Houn said riding has created responsibility in Amy, and improved her self-esteem and her strength.
She said her daughter has a twin sister who doesn’t have a disability, but has many opportunities for activities such as soccer.
“This is one thing that’s kind of Amy’s opportunity,” she said.