Monday, February 14, 2011

Helping people

One of the places that I volunteer at is called Little Bit. They provide equine-assisted therapies for people with disabilities. The mission is to improve the bodies, minds and spirits of children and adults with disabilities through equine-assisted therapy. So basically it allows people to incorporate horse skills into their therapy routine. Through therapeutic riding children, youth and adults with physical and/or developmental disabilities improve physical health, relax tight muscles, increase balance, build muscle strength, sharpen hand/eye coordination, improve social skills, and gain a sense of control and self-confidence as the rider experiences a freedom never felt before. So how does therapeutic riding work? The horse's soothing rhythm, strength, warmth, and three-dimensional movement pattern provides healthy exercise while improving circulation and muscle tone. The discipline associated with working with horses and the social interactions between peers benefit the mind and spirit while raising self-esteem and increasing self-sufficiency through accomplishment. The unconditional love of the horses is proved to reduce anxiety, encourage interaction and offer a haven where riders can feel a sense of empowerment

the barn where all the horses are waiting for the day to begin

There are different types of classes that I am involved in. Adaptive Riding is a one-hour lesson with four other riders similar in either age or ability that focus on increasing individual riding skills while gaining a therapeutic benefit. These benefits include increasing muscle tone and strength, improving hand/eye coordination and balance, improving peer interaction and communication, increasing self-esteem, and developing a sense of control. We create a wide variety of games and exercises designed to increase the student's ability to listen, learn, and communicate. In addition, all riders work on improving their horsemanship skills and a willingness to try new things and attain new goals. Students not only improve their riding skills but are taught how to help groom and tack their horses. Classes include arena riding, trail rides, and group drill activities.

Hippotherapy is an intensive one-on-one therapy session with a licensed physical therapist who utilizes the horse itself as a therapy tool. While walking, the horse moves in a three-dimensional pattern similar to the action of the human pelvis during normal, upright walking. Difficult to duplicate in the traditional clinical setting, the result offers an improved potential for walking and normal hip development in disabled individuals. Upper body benefits include improved hand/eye coordination, posture and balance. Truncal muscles are stimulated by using a variety of movements, allowing speech to come more easily. Interactivity and play are utilized to reach children encouraging and rewarding engagement and reciprocity…

This is a picture I took off the website.

My first rider is a 4 year old and her mom said that before she started riding (less then a year ago) she wasn’t even walking. Now she is moving around like a normal 4 year old would all because of Hippotherapy.  My role as a volunteer is to either lead the horse around and give it commands. The other part I do, is my favorite part and that is being a sidewalker. Being a side walker is where you basically walk on the side of the horse and focus on the rider to ensure their safety, sometimes that means holding onto the rider to either keep them in a certain position or to just keep them on the horse. When you are the side walker your only job is to watch the rider and offer whatever kind of support they will need.

during the lesson

My first rider is named Jane. She is  also the daughter of my very good high school friend.  I didn’t even know she was her mother until one morning before class she caught me walking out of the bathroom and called my name. It was such a shock but what a wonderful thing to know that I have had this connection with her daughter for all these months without ever knowing it.   Jane talks about being a big sister a lot during her classes and so it was funny that I knew all about my friend’s life and kids without knowing that connection.  I am so glad to have the chance to reconnect with this person who I had lost touch with and it reminds me what a small world we are in sometimes.

My next class is my favorite. It’s an adaptive class where everyone has experience and many times they do not even require a horse leader.  My rider is named Alana and she is in a wheelchair with some sort of head injury, but is quite cognitive although she does talk with a predominate slur.  She is the only student in this class that requires a horse leader as well as two side walkers on both side of her, either holding her gait belt at her waist, or performing a thigh hold to keep her balanced and steady as she rides. What is so neat about Alana is that before she was in a wheelchair she used to ride horses professionally. So she has a ton of knowledge and passion for being there and getting on her horse each week. Many times she is the one who plans the different drills and courses that the whole class gets to participate in. The other people in this class are all adults and have also been riding together for some time so everyone knows each others skills and demeanor.  It’s a fun class to be a part off and I think it’s my favorite.

One of the students in that same class is named Kurt. He is 32, I know because his birthday was last week. He works full time at a movie theater,  I know that because he is a talker.  He is able to walk , but does need assistance. He talks, but it takes him longer to form words. He is so kind, sweet, and always had a super positive attitude.  I love seeing Kurt every week. He just reminds me to look beyond the surface of people because sometimes you might have to work harder to find those real gems. Kurt is like that. You might write him off at first if you aren’t paying attention, but with a little bit off time and effort you would discover he is amazing.

 My final rider is named Lily. She is non verbal and probably around 7 years old. This is also a Hippotherapy class and the main challenge is to get her to make eye contact and not put things in her mouth. She is very orally motivated.  She requires a pretty firm ankle hold as she rides and sometimes we will get her to reach for things as she is riding. Almost every week she makes some sort of progress even if it’s just something small, it’s a great thing to be able to be a witness to those small feats.

Lily giving a final horse hug

The thing I love about being a volunteer is that they would not be able to do what they do without the volunteers. They are 100 percent dependent on people like me giving up my free time to help out. I have met a ton of wonderful people, both in other volunteers as well as the riders. Everyone is happy to be there and happy to do it all week after week after week. Just like I have found I am as well.  It’s my Monday morning activity and I will admit that I love it and look forward to going every week.  It’s nice to be able to give something so little and be able to get so much back in return for it. Isn’t it weird how time can sometimes be the most valuable gift ever?

this is Scooter who Jane rides every week

This is Mahan who Lily rides every week.

This is Kyle the horse Alana rides. 

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