Hippotherapy a viable option for autistic children
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At an arena outside of Cotati, a group of volunteers and staff work with a physical therapy patient on the back of a horse. 

This is a child with autism. The next patient waiting for his session suffered a stroke last year. The next day, there is a weekly visit scheduled from a local school with teenagers with disabilities. Afterward is a patient with PTSD. 

These people are benefiting from their relationship with a trained horse and a physical therapist certified in what is called hippotherapy, practiced at Renaissance Healing and Learning Center.

Hippotherapy is a physical therapy treatment strategy on horseback, using the movement of the horse and has been offered at Renaissance for 15 years. The director, Fran Block Sandler, works with patients, a small staff and volunteers who are trained to participate in hippotherapy sessions at the arena. 

Also on staff is a black Labrador, Max the Therapy Dog, the first trained canine to be assigned to a therapeutic facility in the United States. 

Max can be helpful in physical therapy sessions and “has assisted with encouraging young patients who may be momentarily reluctant to get out of a car or put a helmet on,” says Sandler.

On Saturday, April 27, Renaissance will celebrate its 15-year anniversary with an open house provided free to the public from 1-5 p.m. There will be live music, a barbecue, demonstrations, a silent auction and a raffle. 

Attendees will be able to meet the horses, staff and volunteers who provide this service to patients and families from Sonoma County and beyond. The Rains, a duo from Nashville, and Napa guitarist/vocalist Glenn Carter, will provide music. Volunteers will provide barbecue for a small fee. Two half-hour demonstrations will feature the explanation of hippotherapy and an equine therapy session.

In addition, businesses from Sonoma and Napa Counties will be offering many items and services for silent auction. This includes a list of fine wines, a gift certificate from Mieman's Motorcycle Rental, a gift basket from Nature Select Foods, books from local children's authors and a hippotherapy session. 

Tickets will be sold for the raffling of a three-day trip to Lake Tahoe. 

Renaissance is a member of PATH International, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship. Sandler is a physical therapist with 30 years experience and has a graduate certificate in hippotherapy. 

The Renaissance Healing and Learning Center facility is located five minutes outside of Cotati, near Highway 116 and Stony Point. The driveway for 7695 Derby Lane is on Oak Avenue. There will be volunteers assisting with parking.

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