Horses help therapy patients at this Norco nonprofit – Press Enterprise

Leaps & Bounds Pediatric Therapy Inc. provides physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy for children in the Inland Empire.

The non-profit organization Norco was founded in 2010 by Dr. Cassandra Sanders-Holly.

In addition to services such as evaluation, consultation, treatment, home and school program activities, the organization offers hippotherapy. This specialized therapy uses the movement, rhythm and repetition of horses to help clients with neuromuscular dysfunction gain strength and improve motor skills.

Occupational therapy patient Jesse Reidman develops fine motor skills while sitting back on the horse. Occupational therapy sessions often use small toys or objects to develop hand strength, while providing the patient with multiple stimuli to increase concentration. (Courtesy of Leaps & Bounds Pediatric Therapy)

Hippotherapy can be life-changing, according to Sanders-Holly. Instead of teaching a child to ride a horse, they teach them fine motor skills while sitting and improve language skills while talking to the horse.

“A lot of people ask why hippotherapy is so effective,” Sanders-Holly says. “It’s because it’s intense. There are 3,000 balance challenges in just 30 minutes on a horse. We get a lot done in a short amount of time.”

The therapy is used for patients with diverse needs, including those with cerebral palsy, missing limbs, spinal cord injuries, blindness and autism. Since the program launched, Sanders-Holly has seen children learn to walk, feed themselves and say their first words after working with a horse. It also gives customers a way to socialize.

“We have a 16-year-old client with Down syndrome,” Sanders-Holly said. “When we asked what her favorite thing about the show was, she just beamed and said she finally has friends. People can feel comfortable with themselves and make friends. Every child wants to do that.”

Abby Elfelt participates in adaptive riding to maintain muscle tone, flexibility, mobility and posture while learning recreational riding. (Courtesy of Leaps & Bounds Pediatric Therapy)

The cost of hippotherapy can be a barrier for many families with children in need. It can be costly. Health insurance often only covers part of the costs. Friends of Leaps & Bounds Pediatric Therapy Inc, 501(c)3 tax-exempt nonprofit was formed in partnership with Leaps & Bounds to meet these needs. The organization helps cover the remaining costs of therapy so that it remains low or free for those in need.

Recently, Friends of Leaps & Bounds received a grant from the Fred Stebler and Eva V. Stebler Foundation Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation to support equine therapy. Friends of Leaps & Bounds also helps with the cost of caring for the horses. The program has 16 horses, and the care and feeding of each costs $6,000 per year, not including staff costs. The organization welcomes community support.

On October 23 from 3 to 7 p.m., Friends of Leaps & Bounds will host its annual “Fall Fest: An Event for Individuals of all Abilities” at 4211 Valley View Ave., Norco. This annual event encourages the organization’s pediatric therapy clients and their families, neighbors and the community to celebrate diversity on their campus and learn more about the organization’s work.

During the annual event, their campus is transformed into an activity center, featuring a pumpkin patch, pony rides, petting zoo, bouncy castles, games, live music, food and drink, and demonstrations by the California Highway Patrol and the local fire department. Admission is $10 for ages 16 and up, $5 for ages 5 to 15, and kids 4 and under are free. Pony rides and food are available at an additional cost. The event also includes a competition to raise money for chili and cornbread. Tickets and information are available on the organization’s website.

“Coming to our fall festival is a great way to get involved or volunteer with us,” Sanders-Holly said. “We are always looking for volunteers.”

Information: or 951-339-3510

Inland Empire Community Foundation works to empower Inland Southern California through philanthropy.

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