Rider Information

PURPOSE: Central Illinois Riding Therapy (CIRT) is a non-profit organization serving children and adults with disabilities from Tazewell and surrounding counties, in a comprehensive recreational and therapeutic horseback riding program. Early in 1983, a large group of people from Peoria and Tazewell counties met for the first time to discuss the possibility of starting a handicapped riding program for the area. In October that year, CIRT began its first classes funded by seed money provided by 4-H.  CIRT operates under the 4-H not-for-profit 501C3 charter and in accordance with the guidelines established by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), now known as Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.). CIRT moved to various places throughout the Peoria and Tazewell County area until a permanent location was found in the spring of 1988. This was provided through an agreement with the Fondulac Park District, at our present location in Neumann Park at, 305 Neumann Drive in East Peoria, IL (off Route 150).

We are committed to the principle that persons with disabilities are entitled to the same opportunities and rights as their non disabled peers. Our program provides activities that enhance physical and mental skills, aids in mobilization, promotes socialization and communication; and builds independence and self confidence.

Skills developed lead to integration into typical community riding programs, as well as transfer to other activities of daily living. Enriching the quality of life of our participants while offering a unique experience is our mission. 

BENEFITS TO PARTICIPANTS: Horseback riding is strongly motivating for the person with disabilities. Participants are required to reach their fullest capabilities through a non-traditional environment which promotes therapy and fun.  The program is open to any person with a disability whose doctor has determined that horseback riding could provide beneficial therapy.  We serve individuals with a variety of physical, emotional, behavioral and mental disabilities including Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Autism, visual and hearing impairments, Wounded Warriors, learning disabilities and others. 

The bond between horse and participant is unmatched. The horse's smooth rhythmical three-dimensional rolling movement which promotes patterns paired with the warmth generated from the horse may help normalize muscle tone, strengthen muscles, promote good posture and facilitate normal movement patterns necessary for the development of gross and fine motor skills.

By using the horse as a therapeutic modality, increased range of motion in the pelvis, spine and hip joints, development of head and trunk control, increased balance and righting responses, improved upper extremity function, relaxation and muscle re-education may occur. Confidence is built as each participant develops skills that demonstrate control over their horse. Responsibility is reinforced as each participant learns to care for a living animal.

Communication increases as participants are challenged to give directions to their horse and independence develops as participants become confident and transfer their skills into other activities of daily living. Participants improve socialization skills by interacting as part of a group with their peers and volunteer assistants. Riding is fun and affords each individual a leisure time pursuit which can be shared with other family members and friends. 

PHILOSOPHY: The program is dedicated to the growth and development of each individual with the goal for every student to ride as independently as possible.

 Overview of Disabilities: The following is a brief, non medical description of some of the disabilities and conditions of participants.  This is not intended as a comprehensive explanation of a specific disability but rather as a general overview, along with an explanation of how therapeutic riding is beneficial.

Cerebral Palsy:  "CP"-a non progressive disorder of movement and posture thought to be due in part to loss of oxygen to the brain.  Speech, hearing, vision, learning and/or memory deficits may be present; however, normal intelligence is generally not affected unless further brain damage has occurred.  There are three main types of Cerebral Palsy:

Spastic: Occurs in approximately 70% of all cases.  It may affect motor function in one or more limbs.  The muscles stay flexed and tense and the facial muscle involvement may affect speech. Benefits: Riding may improve balance, posture and the ability to relax.  It also strengthens weakened muscles. 

Athetoid:  Occurs in approximately 20% of all cases.  It manifests in slow, jerky, involuntary movements of arms and legs.  It appears more obvious during periods of emotional tension.  Speech functions are usually involved. Benefits: Riding may improve balance, relaxation of muscles and posture.

Hypotonic: Occurs in approximately 10% of all cases.  Weakness, poor coordination and difficulty with quick and fine motor movements result in loose, "rag doll" appearance. Benefits: Riding may help strengthen and tighten loose muscles, balance, posture and fine motor skills.

Down Syndrome:  Is one of the more easily and widely identified hereditary disabilities. Individuals may have impaired intelligence and poor muscle tone. Benefits: Riding improves expressive and receptive language skills, gross and fine motor skills, balance, posture and coordination.

Emotional Disabilities:  "ED"-A congenital or acquired syndrome often compounded by learning and/or physical disabilities incorporating numerous other pathologies.  In general, individuals have trouble coping with everyday life situations and interpersonal relationships.  Behaviors such as short attention span, avoidance, aggression, autism, paranoia or schizophrenia may be exhibited. Benefits: Riding can provide structure to a disorganized thought pattern, increase feelings of self confidence and self awareness and provide appropriate social therapy. 

Hearing Impairment:  Hearing impairment may vary from mild to severe and may be congenital or acquired.  True deafness is defined as hearing loss in both ears severe enough to prevent communication through the ear with amplification.  Communication may involve lip reading, finger spelling (the manual alphabet) or sign language. Benefits: Riding helps increase self confidence, balance, posture and coordination. It also provides appropriate social outlets and interaction.


Learning Disabilities:  "LD"-Learning disabled is a catch all phrase for individuals who have problems processing, sequencing and problem solving but who appear to have otherwise normal intelligence skills.  New learning generally takes time to be integrated and may need to be reviewed frequently to insure retention. Benefits riding may increase attention span, group activity skills, cooperation, receptive and expressive language skills, posture and coordination.

Mental Retardation:   "MR"-is a condition involving subaverage intellectual functioning.  It may also involve delayed physical and emotional development. Benefits: Riding helps increase group activity skills, coordination, balance, and posture, gross and fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination and attention to tasks.

Multiple Sclerosis:  "MS"-An auto immune neurological disease usually occurring in adults between 20-40 years of age and more frequently in women than men.  Symptoms and manifestations include weakness in one or more limbs, visual impairment, minor gait disturbances, weakness on one or both sides of the body, emotional highs and lows and inattention.  MS runs a course of progression with periods of remission.  There is no known cure for MS. Benefits: Riding maintains and strengthens weak muscles and provides opportunities for improved self esteem.

Muscular Dystrophy:  "MD"-A hereditary condition usually appearing in infancy, early childhood or adulthood.  It is characterized by progressive skeletal and muscle deterioration. Benefits: Riding may slow muscle tone degeneration and maintain muscle function.  Riding provides appropriate opportunities for social interactions and elevate emotion depressions.

Eligibility of Participants

CIRT's right to refuse participation in the program includes, but is not limited to, the following reasons:

  • Age: i.e. under 4 years old
  • Contraindication
  • Creates an unsafe or unhealthy situation for the participant, staff, team of trained volunteers and/or horse.
    • Behavior
    • Height
    • Weight: 300 lbs or more
    • Medical conditions
    • Criminal record or conviction of a felony for
      • stealing
      • violence
      • sexual offence 

Should the participant become ineligible they will be discharge by the following means.

  • A written letter explaining why and if they will be eligible in the future.
  • A meeting will be arranged if requested.