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Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 11:06am

On A Snellville Farm, Horses Are The Best Therapists For Kids With Special Needs

On a farm in Snellville, Georgia, children with special needs are getting an unconventional form of therapy. Parents of these children claim they see progress they have not seen anywhere else. They give credit to the therapists, who happen to be horses.

Julian loves to ride. It agrees with him. Marilyn Peterson, known as “Doc” to her friends, adopted Julian as a toddler. She soon learned he’s autistic and has other challenges. Julian is small for a teen; he never went through puberty.

“Julian did not pay any attention to anybody around him in his surroundings until he got on the animals,” Peterson told GPB’s On The Story.

“Doc” Peterson went looking for help from a variety of medical caregivers.

“And so a lot of the times, I would be taking my child to different therapies,” she said. “He hated it. And as soon as there was an animal involved, he loved it.”

When Peterson saw how Julian blossomed around horses, she sold her home, bought Parkwood Farms near Stone Mountain, and never looked back. Now, Julian has a stable right in his own backyard.

Dozens of families with special needs children also take part in Peterson’s version of animal therapy.

Angie Carroll, who has an autistic daughter named Lindsay, says Parkwood Farms has proven to be a godsend.

“She was late with walking, sitting up, all of the milestones that you would see,” said Carroll. “To see her make gains in a lot of different areas, with her communication, her ability to interact with other people and socialize. She loves the riding.”

Lindsay, now 32, has been working with the horses here for seven years and loving it. Her mother says Lindsay is far more social because of her work at Parkwood Farms.

Lilly, a ten-year -old equestrian at Parkwood, is working hard to prepare for a big event this fall -- the special olympics.
She who beamed with pride as she confidently rode her horse Lucy around the arena. Lucy is an abiding horse that manages fine despite the loss of one eye.

Lilly’s mother says autism used to prevent her from finishing words. Now, Lilly is doing that and much more. Her mom doesn’t know how it all works, but says it’s been invaluable to their family.

Lilly won’t be the only rider from Parkwood Farms at the Special Olympics. Julian is planning his ninth trip to the games. His mother says he’s the driving force behind the Parkwood program.

“He keeps me going and he keeps the program,” said Peterson. He keeps everything going around here.”

Julian celebrates his 18th birthday on June 9. Peterson says she hopes her farm’s therapy offers him the chance to enjoy some degree of independence that might otherwise be out of reach.