LANESBOROUGH — What happens when a physically or emotionally disabled person interacts with a horse in equine therapy?
The truth is, the treatment method has not been vigorously studied — in part for want of clinical techniques — but practitioners say they see positive changes occur before their eyes.
"We're trying to find the key that unlocks the door," said Lori Wojtkowski, owner of Whispering Pines Farm on Miner Road. "The horses are a mirror. They recognize someone's challenged and react more carefully in what they do."
She added, "It's an amazing thing to watch, [riders] will start to open up and talk to the horses, even when they won't talk to people."
Wojtkowski in February dramatically expanded her own equine therapy program by blending it into Berkshire Medical Center's larger Equus Therapeutic program, which she now helms as program director and instructor.
Whispering Pines will host an open house from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday for people interested in the rebooted Equus Therapeutic program, featuring information, guided tours, pony rides and free food.
The facility contains 11,000 square feet of space inside several buildings, including a 7,200-square-foot riding arena.
Formerly located a few miles away at Wedgewood Stable on North Main Street, the board of directors who runs the hospital's program saw the partnership as an opportunity for growth.
Equus Therapeutic was limited in hours of operation and to the indoors at Wedgewood — a boarding facility — whereas Whispering Pines promises more flexible hours and outdoors riding as well.
"It was more advantageous for us to find a private facility," said Jean Rotti, president of the Equus board of directors. "It gives us an opportunity to have more lessons throughout the course of the day and grow the number of riders and horses."
Before Wedgewood, the 30-plus-year-old program was located at Oakhollow Farm in Williamstown.
BMC's Equus program features between 35 and 50 riders at a given time, while Wojtkowski had an additional 10 riders in her own program who will be carried over. A second, part-time instructor and four total horses will be assisting Wojtkowski to implement the new Equus.
Equine therapy is used as a treatment for everything post-traumatic stress disorder to attention deficit disorder and cerebral palsy.
"It's magic to watch the progress [riders] can make bonding emotionally with the horse and the instructor while also improving their physical, core strength," said Jessica Krochmal, BMC's director of transfusion medicine.
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.