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Piper's Story

Although Piper is still relatively new to her Therapeutic Riding Sessions at Tauranga Group RDA, already her coach and family have seen substantial changes in her focus and behaviour.

Four-year-old Piper has been diagnosed with Autism, and struggles with everyday things such as verbal communication, co-operation, change, focusing on tasks and her surroundings.

As with many people on the Autism Spectrum, the condition manifests itself in other, sometimes startling, ways - in Piper’s case she has an incredible affinity with numbers and counting, and amongst other talents she is often able to memorise the number plates of her family’s vehicles.

Piper’s mother Erika says that her family has learnt to appreciate the simple things that many other families’ take for granted, such as her daughter being able to combine two words together or be relaxed in a public setting.

“It’s exciting for us to have a meal away from the house if we can actually eat our meal without a tantrum, a coffee shop stop is almost impossible with never knowing what will set her off, but we keep trying.”

Earlier this year, Erika made the decision to enrol Piper at Tauranga Group RDA, and took her daughter to a pre-entry Assessment in early February.

There was initially some hesitancy around how Piper would behave at this assessment, as she hadn’t been around a Horse before and typically reacted strongly against people she doesn’t know, but Erika says the activity went smoothly.

“She had absolutely no fears around her Horse, Scooby, and she connected almost instantly with both the Horse and Sharon, the Coach.  It was very emotional to see Piper smiling and enjoying herself up on the Horse, it brought us all to tears.”

Piper was approved for entry into Tauranga Group’s Riding Programme, which is focused on achieving specific goals and outcomes for each individual Rider.  The team of trained Coaches and Therapists at the Group set the following goals for Piper’s first two terms:

  • For Piper to use her voice, including the phrases ‘walk on’ and halt’ while on the Horse
  • For Piper to follow instruction from voice commands
  • For Piper to mount ‘leg over rump’ from the ramp, initiated with only a verbal command
  • For Piper to complete one task set for her, and one verbal prompt

Fast forward to mid-March, and after only six sessions at Tauranga Group RDA the results for Piper have been remarkable, says Tauranga Group RDA Coach / Therapist, Sharon Aldersley.

“Initially there were a lot of little things that Piper couldn’t do, but through the programme she is learning to focus her mind to achieve set goals and tasks.

As part of her weekly riding session activities, she can now pick up a cup and place it onto a pole, use balls to knock over tenpins, and tap on the Horse’s wither to get him to ‘walk on’ – she is well on her way to achieving all her set goals within the first term.”

Erika says that within the six weeks, she and her family have seen positive changes to Piper’s behaviour outside of the RDA setting, all as a result of her therapeutic riding sessions.

“She is now much less likely to have tantrums at her Montessori, is displaying more focus with everyday activities and is showing an increased ability to learn. She’s even trying new foods!

We can't wait to see how she will continue to surprise us with her improvements.”

Piper has also built a strong bond with her regular RDA Horse, Brandy Snap, with both of them winning Tauranga Group’s ‘Rider of the Term’ and ‘Horse of the Term’ awards respectively this month.

You can read more about Tauranga Group RDA at their website www.taurangarda.co.nz and Facebook page.

You can also view a special video, taken by Piper’s family, of Piper and Scooby during their pre-entry Assessment earlier this year.

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