It's long been said that being around animals can be therapeutic. In Pipestone, Minnesota, therapists are putting horses to the task with children ages 4 to 14 who have a variety of disabilities that range from Autism to Down Syndrome to sensory deficiency and orthopedic issues .
You usually don't associate a horse, hula hoops and the fairgrounds with a therapy session and that's probably why it works so well for the 7 children enrolled in the Hippotherapy Program through the Pipestone County Medical Center and Family Clinic Avera. In Greek "hippos" means horse.
OT Lori Dump says, "Anytime you use an animal it's a good thing. Children really connect with horses and the tactile and sensory helps them organize their system. The horse has a 3 dimensional movement of the pelvis when their rear legs are moving forward and that helps to organize the sensory system and works on the pelvis area of the child to help everything work right."
Lori walks on one side of the horse, USD student in occupational therapy Kyle Bartz walks on the other side and the horse's owner, Lori Goelz leads the horse around. Safety is always priority one.
7 year old Jaden Borman from Holland, MN was born with club feet. His feet were turned in at a 90 degree angle. His mom Tammy says he looked like he had little hockey sticks for legs pointing in. After 7 surgeries and dozens of doctors visits, this kind of physical and occupational therapy is working wonders for him because it's working so many muscles at the same time . Plus, it doesn't seem like work.
Tammy Borman is Jaden's mom. She says, " Since all of his corrective surgeries this helps him stretch out all of those muscles which he needs to do all the time."
8 year old Katie Smith from Pipestone was scared to death of Ginger the Quarter Horse when they met in June when the program started. Now they're inseparable. You can sense their bond from across the indoor arena.
Lisa Smith is Katie's mom. She tells us, "Children with down syndrome have low muscle tone generally and flexible joints. Stability is an issue for them and balance. You can see how riding horseback forces you to balance yourself and be stable. Her handwriting has improved to. Since
Jaden would just as soon ride on Blue, one of the other volunteer horses, but his occupational therapist, Lori, likes him to ride on Ginger because she is broader and it stretches his pelvis area muscles.
Katie's mom says, "Katie loves Ginger and Ginger accepts Katie for who she is."
Both Jaden and Katie are gaining muscle strength and attention skills with every pass, but perhaps even better, they're gaining confidence with that acceptance.
Ginger is a quarter horse is owned by Lori Goelz. She is one of the three volunteers who bring their horses to the Pipestone County Fairgrounds for the therapy sessions. They've all been screened thoroughly to make sure they aren't bothered in the slightest by all the jostling of the therapy. In fact, Ginger can often sense if Katie is off balance and stops so Katie can adjust.