Offering 'lessons' for mildly - moderately 'special needs' kids -

Before I start this post I want to state that I’m trying to word this as tactfully as possible.

Over the years I have had students that had mild to moderate emotional or mental ‘disabilities’ like ADHD, Cerebral Palsy or Autism.

I find that when a ‘special needs’ student makes their way into my program I can feel the parents unease being around groups of ‘normal’ children, and their parents.

I understand this, as one of my own children was pretty highstrung (diagnoised with ADHD) and I often got opinions from other parents about his behavior. Often times I felt ‘unwelcome’, and I believe I have seen this within my own program (not that parents are saying anything or acting outwardly, but I have had parents come to me saying "Why doesn’t Suzies mom discipline her?).

I was considering offering a class session, using our “Parent, Pony & Me” format (an ‘experienced’ based session of grooming, tacking and leadline rides doing your typical seating exercises that may be done on a lunge line) specifically for ‘special needs’ kids. I’m thinking the parents will be able to ‘relax’ in the company of other parents who understand.

What I am not offering is THERAPY of any way, shape or form. Like I have said, I have had children with special needs join my lesson programs in the past/present.

I want to advertise this ethically and tactfully - just looking for advice for wording.

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I can not speak for any other parents, but as the mom of a “special” girl I can tell you my feelings on the subject.

My daughter is 6 years old and has cerebral palsy. In addition to her physical limitations (unable to stand or walk unassisted), she is also cognitively and emotionally delayed. Her emotions and communication appear to be similar to those of a toddler.

I do truly understand the frustration and discomfort a parent may feel when taking their child into a public setting when they have behavior problems. My daughter will thrash around in her wheelchair and scream at the top of her lungs when she is not allowed to do as she wants in public. These tantrums often draw a lot of attention and some dirty looks. I’m actually glad she is in a chair and wears orthotics, as this makes it obvious that she is not “normal”.

I think if you want to offer a private session, I would offer it as just that without specifying that it is for special needs children. Perhaps the “typically developing” children would like a one on one session as well. If you have a special needs kid who seems to be struggling in a group session, maybe you could offer them your private sessions at a discounted rate.

Special needs parents walk a fine line. Sometimes I would love to separate my daughter from others for the sake of their comfort, but she loves nothing more than to be able to interact with other children and I desperately want her to be properly socialized and have friends.

I looked at your web site and saw that you have your “Parent, Pony, and Me” listed for ages 4-8 (says 4-6) in another place. I don’t think it would be at all offensive to add a “Parent, Pony and Me for special needs of all ages”.

That wasn’t a real answer to your question, but I hope it helps.


If I won the lottery, I’d buy a farm and I’d teach “riding for everyone.” It sounds like that’s the sort of thing you’re thinking of?

One way you could phrase it - and you might want to check with a teacher or service provider or parent in your area to make sure the jargon works - is say something like “activities will be developmentally appropriate for young children and tailored for each child.” The message you want to get across is that 1) you have the experience with young children to come up with activities that meet them where they are, and 2) you’re open to working with young children who aren’t necessarily meeting all their developmental milestones in the typical order! If you use the right language, the right parents will be able to read between the lines. You should probably make it clear beyond a doubt that you’re not doing any sort of therapeutic activity - way too many implications of that, as you know - and you might want to come up with some sort of screening tool or set of questions so you don’t end up with kids who really do need therapeutic riding and a therapist’s involvement. It would be horrible to have a family show up and discover that you’re over your head and you need to send them home.

BTW, it’s typically developing, not normal. Normal implies that special needs kids are abnormal. Be very careful you don’t get in over your head.

And honestly, I would think that most special needs kid’s parents would prefer to have them in a regular class. And the other parents need to get a clue and be a little more sensitive…unless the child is disrupting the class. Well then, that’s another story.

Ok you did say “mild” so why offer these “mild” kids basic dressage lessons

According to my current physiotherapist im “high functioning” or “mild”.I am Deafblind(hard of hearing,low vision)+ cerebral palsy.I’m 19 ride abled bodied dressage with no special stuff


Advertising it would be very tricky. Based just on the responses here, there’s already a wee bit of snark seeping out of the corners.

When I worked with ‘special’ kids I was the point of contact for a Hippotherapy program that got applicants that were too advanced for their program, but the parents wanted their children to take lessons in a special environment. I suggest contacting your local hippotherapy program, volunteer a bit and then offer your skills as an instructor and see what you two can work out.

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I think this says it all as far as advertising goes?

I did not have a special needs child but I don’t see anything in the wording above that is lacking in ethics or tact. My friend had a nephew with special needs and she would bring him out to ride my older horse. He would just beam while I lead him around and around the arena and let him pet and brush the horse.

I have a special needs son who is profoundly autistic. Unfortunately he doesn’t connect with animals, so I’ve never pursued therapeutic riding for him. I personally don’t get weirded out with mild terminology blips. I’d rather not people use the word “retarded” since that’s outdated and used as an insult. (I was guilty of it as a kid in the 70s and 80s.) However, neuro atypical, autistic, developmentally delayed are all ok with me. I also don’t get self-conscious around people when Malcolm is having a meltdown. Most people know about autism these days, so I just say, “I’m really sorry; he’s autistic.” Most people nod sympathetically or say, “It’s okay” or “I understand.” Malcolm has had some doozies out in public, too. Some parents may want privacy or perhaps the company of other special needs parents. I wouldn’t advertise as therapeutic riding or hippotherapy because those are their own things with certifications attached. Maybe you could say you are offering up “Parent, Pony & Me” sessions for mild to moderate special-needs children?

I just saw this thread is 10 years old. Whoops!