Photos by Kali Robinson
Members of the Lawton community and some Cameron University students, faculty and staff are aware of the benefits from animal therapy programs such as the therapy dog program on the CU campus for many types of issues such as stress, depression and loneliness.
However, the benefits that can be reaped by those involved with the Giddy Up N’ Go (GUNG), Inc. program are not as widely known.
According to GUNG President Nancy Arntz, GUNG is a 501(c) (3) organization that provides therapeutic services to individuals with special needs through equine-related activities. She said that the GUNG therapeutic team consists of a horse, instructor, therapist and trained volunteers who help each individual rider progress in physical and cognitive development as well as help to promote a positive sense of well being.
Arntz said that more could be achieved by forming a partnership between a person and a horse or pony than by physical therapy alone. She said that therapeutic horseback riding is not only one of the most efficient treatment tools for improving posture, balance, mobility, sensory integration and muscle tone, but it also elicits equally important healing effects and positive emotions.
“Enjoyment is one of the strongest motivators for improvement, for both riders and their families,” she said. “Saddling up on a horse is still an enjoyable pass time for many, but for those with a disability, it can mean much more — a road to recovery and freedom.”
Arntz said that GUNG operates within Suncrest Stables owned by Jane Ann Whisenant. The facility includes an indoor arena where as many as 25 students from several communities in southwest Oklahoma participate during each nine to 10 week session.
“We have some Autism clients who are just wonderful,” she said. “Actually, we had a client, a little guy who would not communicate with a person, but he would talk to the horse and he would pet it.”
As a result of spending time with the horses, Arntz said the boy eventually went on to participate in other activities.
“Because of sensory integration deficiencies that he had, he didn’t want to touch the hair but eventually, he got to the point where he wanted to just pet and soothe,” she said. “At the time that little guy was 6-years-old; he is no longer riding with us because he is now swimming and he is doing basketball — he was able to transfer this kind of therapy into a regular program.”
She said that the funding comes from fundraisers, grants, donations and therapy fees.
“It gets into your blood and it gets into your heart and it is just hard to say no when you are asked to perform a service like this,” she said. “We just continue to give everything we have; we are a 100 percent volunteer organization.”
According to Arntz, GUNG tries to provide for anyone who would benefit from the program.
“All of the money that we receive — donations and fundraisers — goes back into the program for the care of the horses or we do offer riderships for families who can’t afford to pay,” she said. “We charge twenty dollars for a lesson or for a therapy session or if the parents can’t pay that much, we figure out a sponsor or someone who can help pay for the session.”
Arntz said that the long-range plan is to continue providing the best equine assisted therapy for special needs individuals in southwest Oklahoma as well as expanding the program to include at risk youth and individuals in the Wounded Warrior Program at Ft. Sill.
“It is just an amazing thing to see how people just change their whole demeanor or their whole expression and everything as soon as they get on that horse,” she said. “It is just amazing.”
Anyone interested in more information about the therapeutic horseback riding program or about volunteering time or making monetary donations may call 580.248.3701. Giddy Up N’ Go, Inc., is located at 7205 SE Bishop Road.