Poughkeepsie Journal
The Diet Detective 2 Health & Fitness File 3 Parenting advice 7,8
SUNDAY, JUNE 5, 2005
Children respond to therapy
By Karen Orioff
For the Poughkeepsie Journal
L ast summer, Megan Allen took her daugh­ter, Kelsey, to The Southlands Foundation, a non-profit riding/boarding facility in Rhinebeck, to participate in a program called A Horse Connection. Once a week, for about an hour, Kelsey would learn to groom, mount and ride a horse.
To the average person, this might look like just another child getting a rid­ing lesson. But for Kelsey, now 12, it was so much more.
That's because Kelsey is severely autistic. She does not talk, and is not normal­ly responsive to others. But since her involvement in A Horse Connection, she has shown remarkable progress.
"I've seen a lot of im­provement," Allen said. "It has helped with eye contact and socialization. I see her connect with people."
A Horse Connection is one of a growing number of "equine-assisted therapy" programs that combine therapeutic horse riding — which teaches riding skills and encourages patients to bond with and care for the animals — with "hip-potherapy," derived from the Greek word for horse, which utilizes the horse's physical movements to help the patient regain mobility and coordination.
"During hippotherapy, you are mounted on the horse. The horse's move­ment mimics human pelvic movements during walking," said Nancy King, director of A Horse Connection and an occupational therapist at the Anderson School for devel-opmentally disabled chil­dren in Staatsburg. "So this is great for those with lim­ited mobility. It gives them the freedom to move."
A long history
Equine-assisted therapy has been traced to ancient times and in recent years has been extremely popular in Europe. But in the United States, if s just starting to take off, said King, who said she felt there was a strong need for a program in the Hudson Valley, because it can help so many types of disabilities.
"There are very few diag­noses that you can't do this (therapy) with," King said. "It can help with autism, cerebral palsy, multiple scle­rosis, stroke, traumatic brain injury and mental health conditions."
So King, along with her assistant at Anderson, Randi Carlson, started look­ing for a suitable site for a program. They found it at Southlands, where they
Holley Meister/For the Poughkeepsie Journal
Seven-year-old Robyn Cole of Walden thanks Martha the horse as they finish up an equine therapy session at Southlands in Rhinebeck. Nancy King, an occupational therapist and direc­tor of A Horse Connection, holds on to Martha.
Gentle animals make connection
Picking the right type of horse for a specific patient is crucial to the success of equine therapy.
"Making the right match between the horse and patient is based on a number of factors," said Nancy King of A Horse Connection, which oper­ates from Southlands Foundation in Rhinebeck. "For all our clients, the horse's 'horsenality' must be one that is gentle, not afraid of sudden move­ments either from the environment, therapy team or the patient atop the horse. We look for a horse that has a willing attitude, that is physical­ly and emotionally healthy. We choose hors­es that like to be in the company of people.
"We look to see that
the horse has a healthy back, a steady rhythmic walk and trot and mat has good energy, while being calm. After that, the height and weight of the patient will influence which horse is selected for each individual. Each horse has unique qualities and shapes. We seek a horse that is comfortable for that patient. If you wanted to increase the energy of a patient, you might want a horse with a gait that has a lot of movement to it. For someone with sensory dysfunction who is high­ly distracted, it may be wise to select the horse with a very smooth movement But there is no absolute recipe," King said.
— Karen Orioff
Holley Meister/For the Poughkeepsie Journal
Seven-year-old Anthony Wragge of Orange County gives Martha the "co-thera­pist" a hug during an equine-assisted therapy session at Southlands Foundation in Rhinebeck. Wragge has developmental disabilities.
' There was eye contact, socializa­tion, hugs and kiss­es ... That was when the magic stalled.'
Megan Allen
about her daughter's success with equine therapy
piqued director Colleen Cruikshank's interest.
The result was a pilot pro­gram, in conjunction with the Anderson School, for stu­dents with autism and other developmental disabilities. And that program was a great success, King said.
"Many of the kids im­proved and blossomed that summer," remembered Allen, whose daughter took part in the program. "Once they bonded with the ani­mals, the results were pret­ty quick. There was eye con­tact, socialization, hugs and kisses; they allowed them­selves to be touched. That was when the magic started."
Part of that magic has to do with this particular type of therapy's setting — the great outdoors.
"Even though it's clinical, you are not in a clinical set­ting," King said. "It's amaz­ing what you can accomplish in this environment."
'They light up'
MaryEllen Monteiro, a physical therapist regis­tered with the North Amer­ican Riding for the Handi­capped Association, agreed.
"Children are happy to come. They light up when they see the horse. They don't realize they are getting therapy. They are happy to go to the barn and touch the horse," said Monteiro, who also works with A Horse Connection. "It's rewarding to me because the children seem to enjoy themselves more than in the tradition­al settings."
Even children who have never been on a horse before seem to take to this therapy.
Geri Garfinkle's 8-year-old nephew, who is autistic, had never been riding. But when Garfinkle took him to one of Nancy King's ses­sions, she saw an immedi­ate change in the boy.
"He made a really nice connection with Nancy as a therapist," Garfinkle said. "He was easily engaged in going on the horse and mastered all the skills Nancy wanted^ him to. He was following directions and was interested in what he was doing. I thought it was pretty amazing."
Sometimes the changes in an autistic child will be more gradual.
"Usually, the small changes we see immediately after a session add up in the long run to bigger changes," said Jaime Phillips, public relations/marketing repre­sentative from Winslow Therapeutic Center in War­wick, which offers thera­peutic riding, hippotherapy
Please see Therapy, 2F
■ A Horse Connection, sessions at the Southlands Foundation, 121 Route 9 South, Rhinebeck; 845-417-4646; www.ahorseconnection.com or www.southlands.org
■ Winslow Therapeutic Center, 328 Route 17A, Warwick, NY. 845-986-6688; www.winstow.org,
■ We Will Ride Therapeutic Riding, 134 Woodcock Knoll, Cross River, Westchester County. 1-914-763-6805
■ Phoenix Therapeutic Riding, Borderland Farm, Route 94, Warwick, NY/Vernon, NJ border. 845-986-1704; 1-973-764-8996
■ Heritage Riding for the Handicapped, Goshen, NY. 845-294-9339
■ Capitol Area Therapeutic Riding Association: www.catra.net
■ North American Riding for the Handicapped Association: www.narha.org
■ Strides Therapeutic Riding: www.strides.org
Animals bond with kids
Healthy Living, 1F
Therapy: Horses facilitate changes
How a typical session works
Equine therapy patients generally go for therapy one or twice a week, with sessions lasting from 45 minutes to an hour. Nancy King, director of A Horse Connection in Rhinebeck, details a typical session:
"We have approximately 10-15 minutes for greeting and grooming time. The next 30 minutes is generally used for leading the horse around, mounting and the hip-potherapy (atop the horse) portion of the session. Within that time, we encourage quiet time for several minutes, so the horse and client have an opportunity to expe­rience each other and allow the natural movement of the horse to facilitate pos­tural changes, balance and coordination.
"Then we move into a more active phase of interactive activities. This may involve tasks such as having the client move through position changes for motor plan­ning and strengthening. We'll move into creative games/activities that are designed to work on an individual's goals, such as fine motor grasp. Let's consider someone with a stroke. If they have memory or sequencing impairment, we may work on cognitive areas by reviewing the horse's name, color, breed, what they eat and what they did in prior sessions.
"Then for the last few minutes, we wind down and return to the quiet period. This, once again, puts the horse and rider real­ly in sync with each other and can be very calming and can be profoundly emotion­al. The client and horse have accomplished a lot together and they get a chance to build on that emotional/psychological component
"The final 10-15 minutes is used for dis­mounting, interaction with the horse, pet­ting, talking, removing equipment, feed­ing treats, or whatever is appropriate for that client." ♦
Karen Orloff
Continued from 1F
and equine-facilitated psy­chotherapy.
"A child who cannot focus and is hyperactive, can become calm and less agitated," Phillips said. "Another child may become more energetic and 'perk up' from the stimulation of trotting and moving."
Like any alternative treatment, equine therapy is most successful when it is part of an overall med­ical plan. Therapists from both Winslow and A Horse Connec­tion must get consent from a patient's physician before pro­ceeding. This is essential, King said, because a physical therapist must be aware of any medica­tions or specific problems.
"For example," she said, "if someone has severe seizure disorders, we would consider equine-assisted activities for them, but not atop a horse."
Doctors, in general, are sup­portive, King said.
"We have not experienced any resistance from physicians, espe­cially if they've had patients who have participated in these pro­grams. Because of its populari­ty, more and more physicians will actually suggest this for their clients, when it is appropriate."
But there may not be enough programs to meet the need. Last year's pilot program, funded through the Anderson School, is in danger of not continuing be­cause of a lack of funds — although parents are generating fundraising activities.
King is still able to offer her program to members of the com­munity and is adamant about keeping it alive.
Holley Meister/For the Poughkeepsie Journal
After hiding toys under various cones throughout the ring at Southlands in Rhinebeck, Anthony Wragge, 7, tries to remember where they were hidden. Here, occupational therapist Nancy King, left, Wragge, Martha the horse, and Randi Carlson, an occupational therapist assistant, find a ball hidden under one of the cones.
"It's moving to see changes occur. There's a special bond be­tween people and horses," she said. "Horses can be amazingly sensitive, kind creatures."
Not to mention helpful. As
Carlson, King's assistant, puts it, "Of all the traditional therapies I've used, this has demonstrat­ed the most dramatic and posi­tive feedback, from the patients and their families."