Champions for the Disabled
By Susan Browning Schulz
Someone once said, “A great horse will change your life. The truly special ones define it.” When Phantom, a quarter horse with a storied show career, came to board at Bethany Nugent’s barn, he was destined to change many lives and define her life’s work. Phantom has been a part of Nugent’s therapy team since she founded BEATS (Bethany’s Equine & Aquatic Therapy Services, Inc.) in 2003 in Canton.
One of Phantom’s first clients was a teenage boy, who had suffered a brain injury in a car accident. He wasn’t progressing in rehab, but took one look at Phantom, raised his head, reached out his arm and made a sound. Phantom is accustomed to such greetings, but since the young man had been unresponsive for a while, this caused his mom to burst into tears. The boy rode with a great big smile on the incredibly predictable and steady Phantom five more times. Then one day the boy’s lesson was canceled. Nugent learned he had died from a shunt blockage.
Returning to the barn a few days later to rewind after the funeral, Nugent saw Phantom’s owners taking pictures of him to post him for sale. She bought Phantom on the spot, and Phantom has been serving faithfully for 15 years now. He works with 16 other therapy horses, helping build strength, confidence and achievement in the special needs children of our community.
Big celebrations are ahead as Phantom turns 30 on May 29. He has earned his share of accolades: he was the PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) horse of the year in 2015 and inducted into the United States Equestrian Federation’s Hall of Fame. As the poster-horse of BEATS, Phantom works hard, but now that he is older he requires more care, as do several of his pals who have served BEATS for years. Horse care, especially for the aging, is expensive. The horses deserve the utmost care even when they bring in less income as their loads are lessened.
“We hope that Phantom’s birthday celebration fundraising will help cover our older horses ongoing care needs so that these bills won’t affect our scholarship fund,” Nugent said.
BEATS’ mission is to increase awareness of the benefits of using horse movement (hippotherapy) to help people with various disabilities, as well as raise funds for those who cannot afford services.
“Hippotherapy refers to the movement of the horse and is a strategy used as part of a comprehensive therapy plan by licensed physical, occupational and speech therapists. Hippotherapy positively affects strength, balance, coordination, postural control, motor planning, and sensory organization in order to improve functional skills in people with disabilities,” said Nugent, a licensed physical therapist since 1995.
“Adaptive Riding, also called therapeutic riding, is a recreational and educational activity led by instructors who have further knowledge in teaching people with special needs. One of the hallmarks of BEATS is that we have highly qualified therapists and instructors providing both of these programs with excellence. We’ve had a team at the Special Olympics every year since 2008,” she said.
Marcia Nickels, a volunteer shared, “In the over five years I have been volunteering at BEATS, it has done more for me that I could ever do for any of the patients and families. It is an amazing affirmation of how strong these children and their families are during their everyday struggles and still remain smiling and happy.”
BEATS also offers aquatic therapy at a pool in Roswell that has unique qualities like buoyancy, resistance, and sensory stimulation, providing treatment than can’t be accomplished in a clinical setting.
If you would like to be part of this meaningful work, you are welcome to help. All sessions require three volunteers, making this a huge ongoing need for BEATS. No experience is necessary for sidewalkers (those there to keep riders safe). Not a horse person? There are work days and fundraisers throughout the year. BEATS also has a booth at the Verizon Amphitheatre that must be staffed for every concert. The season runs March-November. Keep in mind volunteers need to be 14, and 21 to work at the concerts. To volunteer, celebrate Phantom’s big 3-0, or sponsor horse care, contact BEATS at 678-494-6616 or visit www.beats-inc.org.