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Using 'horsepower' to help those with cognitive challenges

Using 'horsepower' to help those with cognitive challenges
Using 'horsepower' to help those with cognitive challenges 02:57

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's called horsepower therapeutic riding, and parents say it's transforming lives one ride at a time. 

Kip, a 30-year-old who has autism and cognitive challenges, has been taking part in the HorsePower Therapeutic Riding program here in St. Charles, since 2017. His mother says not only has Kip's coordination and core strength improved, but there's been one major breakthrough, for her non-verbal son.

"He just recently for the first time ever, made a selection by pointing," said Kip's mother, Deb Gough. "Believe it or not, you would think pointing is an easy thing and for him, it's just not.

"Communication has always been a really big challenge out in the community, in the world and this is the first place he's been, where communication is easy."

Founded in 2012, the goal of HorsePower Therapeutic Riding organization is to help people, from three to 80 years old, who have physical, cognitive, social, or emotional challenges.

Benjamin Soberano,11, has been coming here for about five years now. He has autism and is non-verbal. 

"A lot of anxiety, a lot of communication issues," said Benjamin's father, Robby Soberano. "It being his happy place, he loves to come here and get on a horse, the horse seems to have a connection with him. Whichever horse he's on. It's amazing to see!"

Margo is three years old. She's been riding for about eight months.  CBS

So does Margo, who is three years old. She's been riding for about eight months. 

'I could just cry now, thinking about it," said Margo's mother, Gina Lehman. "When we see her smile when she's on her horse and just the connection she's made with the instructors and volunteers and as a mom, knowing these volunteers, volunteer their time, it's really special."

Jane Callahan is one of those volunteers.

"It moves us to tears also. We come to love these kids and love these parents. I know personally, I'm very attached, to how they are any given week."

The therapy does not stop with horseback riding. There's socialization with donkeys like Gus and Max. There are even goats, mini-horses, ducks, chickens, and dogs, too.

Riders pay a small fee for lessons. Many of the riders are supported by scholarships through the non-profit's fundraising. 

"It's meaningful to all of us, not just to see the physical growth but the social and emotional growth of the people who come out," said the program's executive director, Barbara O'Neil.  "It matters a lot to us that we make a difference in their lives." 

The organization is having a fundraiser on June 10.

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