Not therapy using a hippopotamus. A horse.
We enrolled Nathan in a therapeutic horse-riding program (hippotherapy) near our home this past Spring and the results were quite simply, amazing.
Previous research among special needs children participating in hippotherapy consistently, show improved gross-motor skills. Studies also reveal there are not only neuromuscular benefits to kids, but also psychological function improvements.*
We saw both with Nathan.
In the two months he participated in the hippotherapy program we saw a dramatic increase in his core strength, his endurance in his walker lengthened, his balance became better, he attends longer to play activities at home, and he became way more vocal and engaged in “conversations” with us. Not to mention all of the unseen connections being made between the neurons in his brain. It was incredibly encouraging to see all of his progress.
As I reflect on the experience for him, I can only credit it back to God, the Creator of these Beautiful Beasts. How can such a gigantic animal with such strength and might, also be so gentle and patient? Yet the movement these creatures stimulated in Nathan’s body was dramatic. It was beautiful to watch this giant animal walk around the arena with my 24 pound son on his back — riding forwards, riding backwards, laying prone across his midsection — ready to respond to each cue. The director of the program said it took her all last summer to find the right animals. For every ten horses she observed, she could only use one with her kids. “They must be incredibly forgiving,” she said. And I saw it every time Nathan saddled up and pulled or pinched the horse’s mane. When he fussed and cried and tried to get down, the horse never flinched. Eventually he surrendered to the process and began to enjoy the rhythmic movements, and of course, all of the love and attention from the volunteers.
We are going to take a break for the summer. Hippotherapy is hot (and expensive). Nathan overheats easily. He has to wear a winter hat underneath his riding helmet because his head is so small. He wears not only shoes and socks, but between these two, he has some fancy orthotics to keep those wonky feet working right. And of course he has to wear jeans. A break is definitely in order for the 103 degree summer, but I have a strong feeling he’ll be back.
He started out with three volunteers plus an occupational therapist surrounding him.
At his last session, it was just him, his therapist, and a volunteer leading the horse.
Man’s relationship with the horse. It’s quite something to witness, especially with children who have tremendous difficulties connecting to their own bodies and to other people. In spite of their barriers to connection, these kids are able to make a mysterious bond with these incredible animals.
But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind. – Job 12: 7-10
Thank you to all of you who have supported and encouraged us to do hippotherapy. We appreciate it so much.
*Kim, Jongkyu; Lee, Namju; Park, Sok, Effects of hippotherapy on brain function, BDNF level, and physical fitness in children with ADHD, J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2015 Jun; 19(2): 115–121., Published online 2015 Jun 30. doi: 10.5717/jenb.2015.15061209, PMCID
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