Equestrian program helps students with special needs build skills and confidence

SAN MARCOS, Calif. -- A therapeutic equestrian program is helping individuals with developmental disabilities by letting horses take on the therapist role.

Students showed off what they learned Saturday morning at an annual horse show put on by TERI’s Campus of Life, a nonprofit organization working to empower those with special needs.

“We have students that were timid and afraid and didn’t know how to assert themselves,” said Natalie Hill, director of the equestrian program. “When you get on a horse, you have to be a leader. You have to build those leadership skills.”

One of the students building her skills is Emma, who has seen a huge improvement in her balance since she started riding horses.

“Being her mom, I’ve seen all the struggles that she’s had to go through,” Emma’s mother, Corie Slawson, said. “TERI has really made Emma’s life a totally different story since she’s been a part of it.”

Parents at the event praised the improvements they’ve seen in their children since joining the program, from gaining confidence to finding a group of friends they connect with.

“He knows everybody,” one father said of his son, Will. “We’ll probably take an hour to leave here because he has to say goodbye to every single person.”

CEO and founder Cheryl Kilmer said TERI plans to bring all of its programs to the 20-acre San Marcos property, where the equestrian program is now located. The tentative plan is to have all programs brought over by the end of 2020.

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