What is PALS?

People & Animal Learning Services (PALS)

PALS is a nonprofit adaptive riding center located in Bloomington, IN. We provide equine-assisted services to people with disabilities, veterans, senior citizens, and at-risk youth. The therapeutic power of the horse can offer many physical, emotional, and social benefits for a diverse population. As a PATH Intl.  Premier-Accredited center, all programs are designed to be individualized and safe.

Clinical therapy can be hard. At PALS, programs are engaging and FUN, allowing our participants to experience a number of positive benefits such as increases in self-confidence, improvements in balance, and improved motor skills. Since its beginning in 2000, PALS has provided over 21,000 equine-assisted program and service hours, various educational programs, and camp opportunities designed to improve the lives of hundreds of children, adults, and seniors in the south central Indiana community ages three and up. As the only organization in south central Indiana to have received a Premiere Accreditation distinction from the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), and the only Equine Assisted Activities program in Monroe County or the surrounding vicinity, PALS has been instrumental in providing the highest quality EAA for clients from 11 counties across the state.


History of PALS

How we began…

Early on, founder and former PALS Executive Director, Fern Goodman (Bonchek), had been exposed to the need for recreational programs for individuals with disabilities in Indiana. Growing up, Fern’s mother, Barb, spent several days a week providing riding lessons for individuals with disabilities at their home. Upon returning to her hometown of Bloomington, IN in 2000, several of Barb’s original riders had inquired about returning to riding, an opportunity Barb could no longer provide, and inspired Fern to explore the possibility of starting her own adaptive riding program. 

Fern had spent several years training and becoming a PATH Intl. Advanced Instructor while working with The Shea Center, one of the oldest therapeutic riding programs in the United States located in Orange County, California. As a result, she felt confident in her abilities to bring the same high-quality program and services to the local community, an opportunity not previously available in Bloomington or the surrounding vicinity for a growing population of people with disabilities, at-risk youth, and veterans.

What Are the Benefits?

Benefits of Therapeutic Riding Lessons

Designed to positively contribute to the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of individuals with disabilities, adaptive riding uses the horse to achieve goals in multiple domains of functioning. It is often theorized that the physical benefits of this adaptive approach are attributed to the horse’s unique movement, which mobilizes the body in a manner that is similar to the natural human gait. This unique movement challenges the rider’s posture, balance, and righting reactions, requiring an increased level of body awareness and constant adjustment. These movements, coupled with the warmth of the horse’s body, are often credited for producing some of the significant physical improvements associated with participation in therapeutic riding activities related to balance, muscle symmetry, gross motor function, coordination, and posture.

Several studies have examined the psychological and psycho-social impacts of participation in a therapeutic horseback riding program, finding significant improvements in areas such as one’s sense of accomplishment, coping abilities, physical self-efficacy, self-confidence, and anger management. Higher levels of social motivation and engagement, which have been shown to result from participation, may be related to the multi-sensory experience that occurs when mounted, and the associated perception of the physical stimulus as rewarding. Subjective reports also noted physical improvements related to weight bearing, decreased hypertonicity, functional balance, trunk control and pelvic mobility, as well as improvements in attention span and decreased fear, but were not consider statistically relevant in their respective studies.

With such diverse benefits associated with participation, adaptive riding has quickly become a popular for children and adults with multiple and wide ranging physical, cognitive, emotional, and social challenges.