By Venise Grossmann
At 3:30 a.m. Jill Mansor rises and begins her day in prayer. She offers gratitude to God for allowing her to achieve her dream of teaching riding lessons on her own farm. Then she walks to the barn to feed her eight horses and ponies—Milkshake, Buttons, Brutus, Hershey, Chicken Nugget, Chessy, Pumpkin, and Quest. Sometimes it’s so cold that the water in the pails is frozen. She lays the feed on the ground in sections and places grain in their feed bins. After wishing her special friends a blessed day, she makes the drive to West Deptford High School where she works as a special education teacher.
During her 27-year teaching career, Mansor has had the opportunity to learn many strategies in working with students with physical or mental challenges. After school and on Saturdays, she brings her master-level experience to her riding ring. Eleven years ago, she began teaching riding lessons on her 12-acre farm in Woodstown, New Jersey—Raise your Dreams Farm, and she is now considered an expert in equine therapy.
Mansor began riding at an early age. After training with Olympic coach Richard Ahlmann twenty years ago, she became a certified riding instructor. She knew her path was to teach when many people began approaching her and asking her for lessons. Mansor began teaching at various farms and then took the initiative to buy one of her own.
She now offers English dressage and hunter cross country lessons from Tuesday to Saturday for beginner to advanced students. While Mansor teaches many of her own lessons, she also employs six instructors. Her clients include adults and children, many of whom have physical, mental, social and emotional challenges.
“One in five people in the United States have a disability,” says Mansor, “so there’s a real need for various alternatives for therapy.” In fact, the American Physical Therapy Association and the American Therapy Association endorse utilizing equine therapy.
Equine therapy is the use of the horse and its movement to provide therapy to children and adults who are ambulatory. “It has proven to be highly effective in encouraging children to talk, walk, focus, strengthen the core, balance, locus of control, spatial awareness and so much more,” said Mansor.
The Salem County Center for Autism has endorsed Mansor’s farm for equine therapy for their autistic students. Since many of these children have sensory issues, Mansor utilizes a variety of strategies. For instance, she may have the child lie across the horse and just enjoy the connection to him.
The students also gain core strength by sitting on the horse. As he moves, his gait (the rhythmic rocking) relaxes the students’ back, hips and muscles. As a result, the students become stronger and more flexible and increase his muscle tone and physical stamina.
Their social interactions and relationships improve because of their interaction with the horse. Since a horse responds to a person’s behavior, if the student is loud or aggressive, the animal will become fearful. Consequently, the student learns that his behavior impacts another being. They also learn that when they respond to the horse in a soothing manner, he will respond in kind.
“I derive so much pleasure in knowing that the students are able to transfer this knowledge to their every day lives and relationships,” says Mansor.
Also, because a horse’s natural gait continually throws a student off balance, he must constantly adjust to the horse, which improves a student’s posture and balance.
“As a student continues with the therapy, his confidence, strength, flexibility and coordination improve,” says Mansor.
Treating the horses with respect is essential, Mansor says. “To develop great horsemanship skills, the rider must understand that the skills begin on the ground.” For example, if the student is anxious, the horse will become anxious so she teaches them to concentrate on their breathing and body language.
Other skills she teaches include how to lead a horse, feed him, groom him, clean tack and care for a horse.
Mansor feels that the most important reward is that the students have fun. “When I see my students smile during a lesson, I know that I am putting my energies into a worthwhile cause,” says Mansor.
She has many success stories. “I work with children who have never walked or talked or ridden a bike, and now their school teachers are noticing a difference in their ability to focus in the classroom.”
Another triumphant case is when she had an autistic child who suffered from sensory problems who is now able to go to the beach.
Other children who were not able to make friends and struggled with self-esteem have gained confidence.
Each of her lessons is planned so that it meets the student’s individual needs and goals. “The goals are established by the student, parent, teacher, behaviorist, occupational therapist and physical therapist,” says Mansor. “Equine therapy works because it takes the brain and unscrambles it. It gives them a pattern and symmetry.”
Mansor believes that those choose to ride at her farm are learning to create a perfect harmony and partnership with the horse or pony. “We accomplish this by incorporating all of the aids to communicate with the horse-- utilizing the eyes, voice, hands, feet and legs,” says Mansor.
One of Mansor’s 75-year-old clients has also seen the benefits of equine therapy. At one point she had so little flexibility that she couldn’t step off a curb. “Now her flexibility is so improved that she feels like she is in her fifties,” says Mansor.
According to Mansor, those who are best served by equine therapy are children and adults who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, paranoic personality disorder, autism, cognitive deficiencies, cerebral palsy, arthritis, social disorders, emotional disorders and juvenile delinquents.
Mansor holds competitions for her students at her farm where the participants can earn ribbons and prizes. Her students also complete at local shows including Gloucester County 4-H and A-Rated Sterling horse shows.
Because Mansor provides a nurturing environment, many of these children end up volunteering at the farm as side walkers or junior riding instructors.
Her work as an equine therapist has been featured on the 700 Club, an international Christian TV show, and on Rowan radio.
To help offset the cost of running the farm, Mansor has started an online business called Anythingforhorseandrider.com. The site provides a forum to sell or local equine related businesses. She also shares her daily success stories and photos on her Facebook page.
For more information, visit www.raiseyourdreamsfarm.com or contact Jill at 856-769-3722. Anyone who mentions reading about Jill in Woodbury-West Deptford Life will receive a $10.00 coupon to be used on any horseback riding lesson package.
Venise Grossmann is an English teacher at West Deptford High School. She can be reached at email@example.com.