BUCKFIELD – Three years ago, Morgan Lueck would never have gotten on a horse.

On Wednesday, the 12-year-old mounted Lancer as if he had been doing it his whole life. The increased confidence is just one of the changes in him that has his mom practically beaming.

“For kids, it seems the horseback riding unlocks something,” said Noelle Lueck as she watched her son ride Lancer around a small ring.

The Hartford-Sumner Elementary School student has struggled with speech development problems since he was small. Tests and speech therapy programs didn’t seem to do much for him.

But after Lueck’s cousin Stacey Raymond introduced him to horses three years ago, noticeable changes occurred. Since he began horseback riding, his confidence, motor skills and speech patterns have improved.

“He started riding a bike after horses, (and) his speech lessons at school started clicking,” his mom said. “He writes better and reads better.”

Raymond, a licensed speech therapist, owns Healing Spirit Farm in Buckfield and blends traditional speech therapy with horseback riding to help kids with speech development problems.

She and husband Michael own eight horses on their farm property on Streaked Mountain. Raymond, who has been around horses her entire life, formerly worked as a speech therapist in Massachusetts and returned to Maine three years ago with a vision of helping kids with horses. She explained that traditional speech therapy programs often limit kids to a classroom-type setting using games and worksheets without developing their coordination and motor skills, which are crucial to the complex human speech mechanism.

“It’s not that anyone is doing the wrong thing. It’s just that sometimes you have to look outside the box to get the right answer for the kid,” she said.

So far Raymond has worked with five kids with speech problems. They all showed improvement after they began horseback riding, she said.

“When a kid can get on a 2,000-pound animal and do something with it, that’s a huge confidence builder,” she said. As their confidence grew and they continued riding, their muscular strength and coordination improved, leading to better speech patterns.

Raymond explained that children who have speech development problems often have underdeveloped coordination and motor skills, caused by things such as a very short crawl period before they began walking. “They haven’t had the ideal sequence of development,” she said. “Children develop from the core out … speech is all about coordination.”

Horseback riding is an ideal way to address those early development shortfalls because it simultaneously works several different muscles in the body, she said. And most kids – and adults – fall in love with the gentle nature of a horse. “Kids are far more motivated when they’re involved with animals,” she said.