May 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 1 
Cover Story

A 'Little Bit' of help from my friends

ECF supports a place where the therapists weigh 1,200 pounds—and have four legs

A 'Little Bit' of help from my friendsPeter Wehrle is a 12-year-old boy with an engaging smile and a love of baseball. Peter also has Hunter syndrome, a rare disease in which material builds up in his joints and organs, resulting in physical and cognitive disabilities. One of the effects of the disease is short stature. But when Peter's on the back of a horse, he's the tallest kid around.

Once a week, Peter goes to Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Woodinville, Wash., a nonprofit organization that uses horses to help people of all ages with disabilities. Little Bit Riding Center, which was founded in 1976 and receives support from The Employees Community Fund of Boeing–Puget Sound, offers a variety of therapeutic riding programs. These programs are designed to improve the bodies, minds and spirits of people with disabilities through the use of the horse in therapy.

Using a horse's distinct "three-dimensional" motions, riders tap in to benefits that cannot readily be duplicated in traditional physical therapy. Physical benefits to the rider include relaxing tight muscles, building muscle strength, and increasing balance and coordination. Therapeutic riding also provides emotional benefits such as improved social skills and increased self-confidence as riders gain a sense of control and feeling of freedom.

Peter has been going to Little Bit for three years. His father, Paul, said that by riding a horse once a week Peter is "becoming fearless" as he develops the skills to maneuver the animal from walk to trot. The therapy sessions in the arena also help alleviate Peter's joint stiffness, which is another symptom of Hunter syndrome.

Equally important, Paul said, is that Peter has made friends at Little Bit. There Peter gets to spend time among other kids with disabilities, where the focus is not on the disability, but rather on the unique abilities of each rider.

Little Bit currently serves more than 200 riders per week, Executive Director Kathy Alm said. Her role is to ensure that Little Bit has the resources to provide the highest quality services for its riders. Part of accomplishing that goal is continuing the long relationship Little Bit has had with ECF.

"The Employees Community Fund has helped us in so many ways," Alm said. "Through the generous support and donations from ECF, we've had a tremendous jump in the quality of our programs and safety here at Little Bit. That's so important to what we do and our plans for the future."

In recent years, grants from ECF have provided for a new metal roof on the arena, eliminating leaks on rainy days, and the installation of a new sound system. Instructors now can be better heard by the riders, thanks to the sound system. It also allows parents to wait indoors for their children, yet continue to listen to the exercises. Little Bit also received a grant from ECF in 2003 for new arena footing.

"The conditions in the arena had gotten difficult for our volunteers and staff to walk on, and we were running the risk of laming our horses," Alm said. "The new footing is something we really needed."

—Debby Arkell

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