The Therapeutic Riding Center of Huntington Beach (TRCHB) was founded in 1990 by a group of community volunteers who wanted to provide services to individuals with disabilities in the form of Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT).
Mission and History
Therapeutic Riding Center of Huntington Beach (TRCHB) was founded in 1990 when our founder, David Allen, saw a need for equine-assisted therapy for several disabled residents of Orange County. Starting with one horse, a group of volunteers dedicated themselves to utilizing horses and riding to help people with disabilities. Our mission is to empower people with physical and developmental challenges to discover their greatest strengths and gain a sense of self-confidence and self-reliance, through the special relationship with a horse.
In pursuit of this mission, in 1992, we were certified through the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, now known as the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH), a voluntary, peer-reviewed accreditation process confirming that TRCHB demonstrates excellence in therapeutic riding, incorporates best-practices and therapies, and maintains proper safety standards. In 1992, TRCHB officially became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and acquired our first horse, Lena. Since 1992, we have provided our services in a private arena at the Huntington Central Park Equestrian Center, serving children and adults from throughout Orange and Los Angeles County five days per week.
Today, we continue to provide low-cost therapeutic riding services to children, youth, and adults with a variety of physical and developmental challenges, including autism, muscular and skeletal diseases and disorders, learning disabilities, and those with vision impairments and who are deaf or hard of hearing. Through our riding sessions, we help our clients develop a “spirit that overcomes their disability.”
As we look toward the future, TRCHB is focused on building our capacity to meet the growing demand for our services. While the horse has long been considered to have therapeutic value, its use in occupational and physical therapy continues to grow. Knowing the effectiveness of this therapy, TRCHB has begun to develop a long-term strategy for growth. In 2019, we provided services to a record 80 students representing 32 different diagnoses. Our goal is to increase the number of students by 15% each year.
Orange County has a current census of just over three million people with approximately 271,000 living with disability, including 24,000 children struggling with hearing, vision, cognitive, and ambulatory disabilities. For many of these children and adults, physical, occupational, and speech therapies are needed to ensure the highest quality of life. Complementary and alternative therapies, such as therapeutic riding, are often added to long-term treatment plans, adding benefits that are not easily obtained through traditional options.
Research shows that these alternative therapies are gaining more and more popularity; the National Institute of Health estimates that nearly 40% of Americans integrate alternative therapies into their health plans. For many children and adults struggling with physical and cognitive disabilities, therapeutic riding complements their traditional therapies in a unique way. Unlike traditional therapies, riding forces the rider to exercise the entire body at once, and the relationship between a rider and horse can build confidence, trust, and motivation.
While research on equine therapy is still in its infancy, many riders, families, and doctors can attest to its benefit. Equine therapy is defined as a therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement as part of an integrated intervention program to achieve functional outcomes. Equine movement provides multidimensional movement, which is variable, rhythmic and repetitive. The horse provides a dynamic base of support, making it an excellent tool for increasing the rider’s trunk strength, control, and balance, and building overall postural strength and endurance. The results can include greater coordination, respiratory control, and attentional skills. Furthermore, many patients enjoy additional emotional and psychological benefits, including reduction in anxiety and depression and increase in empowerment and confidence. Perhaps the best benefit is that a student often forgets that they are working hard, because their therapy is so much fun!
Unfortunately, equine therapies can often be costly and difficult to find. Horse ownership is expensive; the average horse requires over $5,000 per year in feed, stable costs, veterinary costs, and other expenses (University of Maine Cooperative Extension, 2011). In addition to arena expenses, adaptive equipment, and instructor salaries, therapeutic riding programs can cost upwards of $100 per session. While many therapeutic riding programs are offered by nonprofit organizations, the cost restricts the number of available services, and many have waitlists.
While there are almost 850 PATH-accredited therapeutic riding centers in the United States, Orange County is home to only two, including our center. Furthermore, the only other provider is located in South Orange County, creating transportation barriers for many riders in other areas. The costs of these services can also be a barrier; of those living with disabilities, 29.7% live in poverty, compared with 11.7% of the general population (American Community Survey, 5-year estimates), making low-cost and local therapeutic riding services all the more important.