A PLACE WHERE LIVES ARE CHANGED.
This place can change lives. That was the first thought through my head as I watched Daniel ride around the corral on Bukka’s strong gentle back. Steve and Michelle alongside as Taylor leads the mare at a slow steady pace as Daniel used his body to move and sway with the natural rhythm of the horse.
What we’re doing here is something that I find fascinating it called hippotherapy (no they don’t use hippos, ‘hippo’ is Greek for horse) and it is used for patients of all ages from 2 to 40 and older. And these patients have disorders from severe autism to brain injuries. It seems like a funny mix, a 1,000 lb animal and someone with ailments that would normally preclude them from such activity.
Michelle Baxter an Occupational Therapist and an accredited Hippo Therapy Clinical Specialist explains. “Hippo Therapy is a medical treatment, not just something you do for fun. There are several reasons we use horses, one is mechanical and it has to do with the pelvis of the horse which is very similar in construction to the human pelvis.” She goes on to say that the movement of the horse is so similar to human movement that it forces the rider to use their core muscles in their abdomen and trunk increasing strength in those vital areas, and also helping with balance.
There are other therapies that are used as well on the back of the horse. With severe autism a person can be said to be ‘straight zero’s’ or completely non-responsive to human interaction. This is where the horse comes in. According to Michelle the stimulation of the horse and its movement seems to unlock something deep inside the autistic patient, something that allows their brain to make connections that normally wouldn’t be made.
Dr. Anne Moore, a retired pediatrician of 36 yrs and owner of the farm is a lively engaging woman who is the brainchild behind the whole operation. When I asked her to email to me her reasons for doing what she is doing she sent me straightforward answers.
“By incorporating my medical expertise, and that of other medical professionals in the community, along with a superb team of therapy horses, I expect we will be able to optimize the therapeutic experience for our riders. Many people already recognize the effectiveness of therapeutic horseback riding, but I hope to be pursuing research in this area, to prove to the insurers, that this is in fact a very cost effective therapy, and not just our imagination. Some good research has been down in this area already, demonstrating the increase in core strength in children with cerebral palsy, which allows them to increase the use of their upper extremities. Also two great studies have been done showing the broad functional gains for children with Autism.
Forget the studies, when you see it for yourself you will be amazed! We have been working with a 13 year old boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder; who has been nonverbal for his entire life; begin to talk to the horse after only four lessons. As, Liv Perrino, our NARHA instructor said, "If you can get them to begin to verbalize, you can teach them to talk." He has also experienced increased balance and nonverbal communication. He is just one small example.
Many people ask, "why horseback riding therapy?" No one knows why it works, but we have to remember that it does a lot for the able bodied riders too: spiritually, mentally, and psychologically. It also gives women a sense of power and authority that they may not get in any other aspect of their lives. Hence its effectiveness for abused and neglected, girls and women.
And she’s right, when you see the difference for yourself the results are amazing! Another story involving a 2 yr old girl who, and I don’t know the medical terms, for some reason always kept her legs out straight which made crawling impossible, and because she couldn’t crawl she couldn’t thrive. So they put her on a horse and after a few sessions she was crawling, after a year of unsuccessful traditional therapy.