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The healing potential of horses

Source acknowledgement

Nadia Miller riding Snowflake with mom, Tammy and Riding instructor Tammy Moore.
Author: Austin Schiffman


Published 07/25/2008 - 2:02 p.m. CST

Sir Winston Churchill said, “There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.” Few people understand this more than expert horse trainer Chris Cox. A lifetime in the saddle has shown Cox that the bond between a horse and its rider can produce miraculous results.

At the SpiritHorse Therapeutic Center in Corinth, the healing potential of horses is seen every week. The SpiritHorse ranch offers free horse handling and riding sessions to adults and children with disabilities. When Cox learned of SpiritHorse’s dedication to helping people through the connection of horse and rider, he was compelled to share in the experience. “It touched me,” Cox said. “I wanted to get involved and do a show there.” Arrangements for Cox’s visit were made and on July 7, Cox and his camera crew went to SpiritHorse to tape an episode of his “Chris Cox Horsemanship” series and work with the instructors and staff of SpiritHorse.

SpiritHorse’s founder, Charles Fletcher, was more than happy to work with Cox and his crew. “He helped our instructors solve problems which will improve our ponies and make the lessons safer and more effective,” Fletcher said. At the center of Cox’s visit was a birthday celebration for Nadia Miller, a girl born with no arms and one leg shorter than the other. According to SpiritHorse riding instructor Melanie Murray, young Miller could barely stand when she first arrived at SpiritHorse for riding lessons. Now, at age 5, Miller has made considerable improvements in her physical abilities. With the reins Velcro strapped to her safety vest, Miller is able to guide the actions of her favorite pony, Snowflake. “She's able to turn using her own trunk strength and can trot, post and other maneuvers that require skilled balance,” Murray said.

While visiting SpiritHorse, Cox had a chance to teach Miller and her pony a new command. “Chris taught Nadia how to back Snowflake.” Fletcher said, “She was so proud of herself!” According to Murray, the potential for improvement in those with congenital birth defects such as Miller is significant. “Children who come to us with minimal trunk strength and balance, having difficulty sitting up unassisted, etc., have experienced major improvement,” Murray said. She added that SpiritHorse also does a lot of therapy work with individuals with Autism and studies through Southwest Medical Center and Dr. Janet Kern have yielded very positive results. “When warming up Autistic riders in the round pen, they show significant improvement in an underdeveloped portion of their brain that is more affected by Autism,” Murray said.

The therapy offered at SpiritHorse has also produced results with riders who are preverbal, individuals who have yet to speak. According to Murray, parents have had the opportunity to hear more than 30 children speak their first words at SpiritHorse. “The excitement of getting to be with their pony and command such a great animal stimulates them to speak,” she said. According to Murray, SpiritHorse serves approximately 500 riders a week during each of their two 12-week minimum sessions. Each rider gets a weekly one hour individual lesson tailored to meet the person’s particular needs.

Cox concluded his visit to SpiritHorse with the donation of Rugged Stinger, a 20-year-old gelding horse. Rugged Stinger will arrive at SpiritHorse later in the month and the staff is very excited to work with him. “I hear he is so in tune with his rider that he lays down on command,” Murray said. Fletcher expressed his gratitude for Cox’s donation. “This wonderful horse will give thousands of lessons over his lifetime and help so many children with disabilities,” he said. The episode of “Chris Cox Horsemanship,” featuring SpiritHorse will air Aug. 5 on RFDTV. More information on Cox is available online at his Web site: http://

According to its Web site, SpiritHorse employs the use of 26 horses and ponies. Their sessions are available for free to those who meet the proper criteria. Currently, there is a waiting list. More information can be found on its Web site: http://www.