By Kaitlin Wieczorek, Student, OTA Program, KU Jacksonville
When I first started the OTA program and was asked to create an ideal clinic in Introduction to Occupational Therapy, a classmate and I created a hippotherapy barn called Holistic Horses. Now during my first rotation of fieldwork, I had the opportunity to observe a real hippotherapy barn. For those of you who might not know already, hippotherapy incorporates occupational, physical, and speech therapy with horseback riding.
At the site, Hope Therapy, I observed many patients who had been there for years and saw firsthand all the benefits of working with the horses. Patients of all ages and diagnoses varying from autism to spinal cord injury show improvement. The therapist uses the movements of the horses to help the patient’s gait and posture. Patients ride along an outdoor sensory trail where letters and objects beginning with that letter appear for patients to identify. There is also a multicolor ring toss game to help patients with coordination. Obstacles along the trail force the horses to change position/direction and the patients must also adjust, which increases balance. Some patients that ride here are unable to walk on their own, and find the movement of the horses freeing, as if the horse becomes a part of them and they can walk again. One patient who suffered a spinal cord injury feels that the movement of the horse “opens” her muscles, allowing her to walk back to her wheelchair with assistance when the session is over.
While at Hope Therapy, I assisted the therapist as a side walker during the treatment session of this patient and decided to undergo training so that I can continue to do so as a volunteer at the site. I like to think that someday I really will open Holistic Horses because now I know for sure that the therapy that takes place at hippotherapy barns goes beyond the physical body. It has the potential to touch your soul.
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