Horses Brings Hope and Healing to Benton, Linn Counties
Equine therapy, or “horse riding therapy,” provides healing and empowerment to people suffering from a variety of diagnoses. Though talk of this unique form of the therapy has been around since the 1500’s, it did not become prominent until the 1960’s with the inception of the British Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) and the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA).
The benefits of equine therapy are unique to each client, but can include reduction in physical symptoms, more flexibility and strength, and psychological improvements.
Here in Corvallis, horse lover Erin Bradley created an Oregon-based horse riding therapy program where clients feel safe and liberated. Derivedstraight from the horse’s mouth, the program was named “Bit By Bit.”
Bradley’s inspiration for Bit By Bit originated from two main sources: Bradley’s paraplegic yet vibrant uncle, and a friend who struggled to find community activities for her daughter with Down Syndrome. In 2013, Bradley’s vision was realized when Bit By Bit opened its doors. Today, located on Highway 99 West, the non-profit organization consists of eight therapy horses, 30 clients, and 35 volunteers.
“Not all of them [volunteers] are weekly,” said Bradley, “some are behind the scenes, but we have about 20 volunteers that come weekly to help with either client services or horses.”
Bit By Bit clients consist of both children and adults with conditions ranging from cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, Down Syndrome, anxiety, and grief. Bradley added that the program is also expanding to offer services to veterans — who often suffer from post- traumatic stress disorder — where they can spend time with the horses at no cost, or help in the barns for a change of scenery.
It is common for clients to face various minor challenges when beginning their equine therapy journey. Bradley said that the most common struggles include range of motion or physical limitations and mental difficulties. However, Bit By Bit therapy horses are chosen specially for the job and provide a judgment-free zone.
“They have to be extremely docile, very laid back,” said Bradley. “They have to love people, and love what they do. [The horses are] just really, really loving, and treat each person differently based on the person, and there’s no judgment involved.”
In addition to therapy services, Bit By Bit also participates in various community outreach programs including the Special Olympics Oregon’s Polar Plunge and Every Child Linn-Benton. Additionally, this August Bit By Bit will serve as a non-profit partner of the Great Platypus Drop, which benefits the Albany area Habitat for Humanity.
“We’re also in the works to host several riding days for foster families,” Bradley said.
Additionally, Bradley and Bit By Bit volunteers committed several days to rescuing local horses and livestock during the 2020 Oregon wildfires.
If you are interested in involvement with Bit By Bit, you will first need to fill out the necessary client or volunteer paperwork. For clients who need financial assistance, Bit By Bit offers scholarships through generous donations from the Integrity Foundation and Oregon State University. If you are still deciding whether the program is right for you or your loved one, you can request more information by contacting Bit By Bit.