SHERIDAN — Children Horses and Adults in PartnerShip (CHAPS) Equine Assisted Therapy has been awarded premier status with Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, the governing agency for facilities engaged in equine-assisted activities and therapies. Also CHAP’s equine facilitator and instructor, Christina Pescatore was selected as the PATH Certified Professional of the Year for Region 10, which includes Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah.
Several staff members of CHAPS celebrated their one-year anniversaries working with CHAPS in Sheridan earlier this year. This included Executive Director Kristen Marcus, PATH International certified riding instructor and equine specialist in mental health and learning Pescatore and barn manager Gina Marchese.
Their licensed professional councilor, Lynn Gordon, has been in the area for more than 20 years. She is in charge of providing therapy for veterans.
“One of the biggest motivators for us to get premier status is that we needed to be able to apply for Wounded Warrior project funds for subsidization for Veterans Affairs so that they won’t have to pay for the services we provide veterans,” Marcus said. “It also makes us eligible for the Disabled Veterans Association and the Christopher Reeve Foundation. The Christopher Reeve Foundation does a lot with veterans and their families, but also with a lot of paralysis. We have a new client that is quadriplegic and a couple of other clients who have cerebral palsy, so that grant will help them a lot.”
Pescatore led the efforts getting the accreditation for premier status. PATH provides a book of about 130 standards that have to be adhered to in order to qualify for premier status. The standards apply to all aspects of the program including administration, instruction, management, facility and therapy.
Each member of the CHAPS team assigned themselves a number of standards to work on, and Pescatore made sure that everything was completed. Her leadership efforts earned her the title of PATH Certified Professional of the Year for Region 10.
“It is a great feeling. Personally, I didn’t think I was going to get it at all,” Pescatore said. “When we were filling out all of the paperwork I left a lot of questions blank. I was completely surprised by receiving the award.”
The team applied for every category including client of the year, horse of the year, volunteer of the year, veterinarian of the year and certified professional of the year.
“Christina lit up like a Christmas tree when she found out she had won,” Marcus said. “We are all pretty proud of her. She has worked really hard this year and goes the extra mile.”
Pescatore is not a stranger to going the extra mile. Becoming a PATH certified riding instructor and equine specialist in mental health and learning is a rigorous endeavor. The course load includes learning all the disabilities that you could eventually teach; the anatomy, physiology and kinesiology of horses and people; how the horses’ movements affect people with disabilities; how to write lesson plans; how to match horse and tack with each rider; how to train volunteers; and how to maintain horse, rider and volunteer safety.
The CHAPS team started working toward getting accreditation back in November 2015. They went through each section of the book of standards and adjusted the program so that it adhered to them.
The program was ready for the PATH review in April, which is when they applied for the accreditation. Representatives from PATH visit the centers that apply for premier status to look at the facility and make sure that the standards are in practice. There are not many site visitors in this area so CHAPS had to wait for inspection until the end of June.
“The site visitors went through all of our files to make sure that all of our paperwork was in order, they tested the lift, they walked fence lines, and Christina had to show them how she teaches the lessons involving therapeutic riding and ESMHL,” Marcus said. “There were a few things that we needed to implement or adjust, but we passed with a 92 percent.”
Some of the adjustments included keeping more detailed records, having the lift that helps people get on and off the horses checked monthly and putting a first-aid kit in the truck for traveling. Most of the standards had already been implemented by the previous director and staff so not much needed changing.
The program will have to be re-evaluated every five years to ensure compliance. If CHAPS adds a hippotherapy program and a therapeutic driving program, which they would like to implement in the next couple of years, PATH will have to re-evaluate the program within a year and a half of those changes.
Hippotherapy is occupational, physical or speech therapy executed on the back of a horse. An occupational therapist will work along side Pescatore.
“The main difference between hippotherapy and therapeutic riding is that in hippotherapy I am in charge of activities for the horse to accomplish that work toward the therapist’s goals for the client,” Pescatore said. “In therapeutic riding, I work with the horse and the client. I teach the clients horsemanship, help them develop social skills and communication and I work with them on fitness, balance and coordination.”
According to Marcus, CHAPS had a horse donated to them that is broke to drive a cart. Grant money was awarded to purchase a harness and a buggy. The only thing missing is a PATH certified driving instructor.
“A therapeutic driving program offers clients an option other than riding,” Marcus said. “Some clients are terrified of getting on a horse, so driving would provide an alternative form of therapy for them. Also adding these two programs will help the CHAPS grow and provide the opportunity to allow us to help a broader range of people in need.”