Clients Say It Best
Carol Still and Nickers
Hippotherapy…really? My physical rehabilitation doctor at the MS clinic at the UBC hospital is telling me that she wants me to ride a horse? I am in a wheelchair…how is that possible? I was diagnosed with MS 22 years ago yet was able to be athletic and active but, in the last 4 years, my MS has suddenly disabled me.
I love horses and never rode much (a few trail rides, etc.) but I have always been drawn to them. I love their eyes, soft noses, strong bodies and that amazing “horse smell.” Just to hug a horse is wonderful!
So I showed up at VTEA. After an assessment, I went up the ramp in my wheelchair to see if this would work. It took 5 people the first time to safely get me in the saddle! I was terrified. Was this really worth it? Having lost leg, core muscles and balance, I had to completely depend on my VTEA team.
The encouragement and help I received from Pippa and the volunteers was amazing! They smiled at me, laughed and helped me relax. After a couple of weeks, I held my legs, reminded myself to breathe, and started to enjoy it. Now it is the highlight of my week. My balance and core strength are better, I don’t need my legs to be held often, I don’t need a saddle, I am learning to use the reins, I am assisted to dismount to the ground and am moving my arms and trunk…I am riding!
When I ride, I feel the rhythm and warmth of the horse relaxing my tight, spasm-prone legs. Sitting tall in the correct posture strengthens my core. Stretching my arms and turning improves my flexibility and balance. I am having a physical challenge and it is enjoyable. It is much better than just trying to battle my body doing exercises on my own.
I love my horse Nickers. I cannot explain it but it is something very special. After riding, I usually have 1 to 2 nights of diminished pain and leg spasms…an enormous benefit!
In a nutshell, the community of VTEA, the physical improvements and my wonderful horse are all unique and so valuable to me. It is worth it!
Kimberly Bloom—1986 to the present
When Kimberly started riding at 4 years old, she could not walk independently. She couldn’t get herself up from the floor without someone’s help or by using a piece of furniture. She could stand but that was all. Kimberly was born with cerebral palsy and other challenges, which included being legally blind and having a developmental delay. In 1986, her physiotherapist in Abbotsford suggested that we give therapeutic horseback riding a try. We were sent to VTEA to a riding arena on 232nd Avenue, near Langley. There, we met Pippa Hodge, the physiotherapist who specializes in hippotherapy. We soon found out that therapeutic riding was the amazing key that Kimberly needed to get her walking on her own.
The first pony Kimberly rode was called Prince. In her sessions, Pippa had several riders in the ring with multiple side walkers and leaders. All the ponies including Prince and Chico knew Pippa’s patterns. Many times, they would stop before Pippa called for a halt. Kimberly’s posture improved quickly because she was getting lots of movement through her trunk and she had to hold her head up. She couldn’t be a noodle on a horse! Riding also broke up her pattern of tightness on the insides of her legs. Sitting astride the pony while seated on the supercore pad allowed the warmth of the horse to help loosen her tight muscles giving her a great stretch.
Pippa also told us that the horse’s walking movement imitated a natural walking motion and this movement was transferred to Kimberly’s pelvis as she sat upon the horse. By the end of the first session, Kimberly was able to move from a stationary standing position to walking (cautiously) on her own. Kimberly has continued to ride since then.
Weekly activities on the horse include exercises and stretching, working with a ball to improve balance, trail riding up and down the hills, weaving around poles or stepping over them, starts and stops, trotting and rein work. She loves being on the horses and every week after her ride when we ask how her muscles feel, she always says “Used!” However, this is a good thing as so many important muscles are used in riding. Many times Kimberly sings as she rides, practicing her voice lesson pieces and the horses don’t seem to mind. She also enjoys the after ride hug and the pet that she gives the horse.
Adding to the benefits and enjoyment of the experience, the instructors, volunteers and staff at VTEA have always been wonderful people. Everyone is committed to making a difference in the lives of the children and adults who ride there. The benefits have proven to be more than just physical. We consider ourselves very fortunate that Kimberly is part of this group. Thanks to everyone at VTEA!
A rider called Ryder
Ryder is my grandson. He loves animals, enjoys life and looks at the world a little differently. When Ryder was born, he was perfect in every way and you would never in a million years think there was anything wrong. That is why, when the family was told that Ryder was not developing normally, it was very hard to accept.
My daughter took Ryder to Children’s Hospital for an MRI and she was told that he had mild cerebral palsy. He was delayed in meeting most of his milestones, like crawling, walking and speech. I think the diagnosis of delayed speech was the hardest to accept. Ryder would get very angry about not being able to tell you what he wanted or needed. He would physically drag you to where he wanted you to go.
When Ryder was three, our physiotherapist, Pippi Hodge, asked us if therapeutic riding would be something we would consider to help him develop core strength and to help him with balance. She mentioned that it would also be helpful for his speech. I wondered how that could be possible but it certainly was worth a try because, after all, he really needed to develop his muscles.
Ryder began at VTEA just two months after his third birthday. He was putting one or two words together when he began his first riding session. For the first little while, I cannot say if he gained much in the way of speech but we were amazed at how much better his muscle tone and overall body strength was. He began enjoying more physical exercise like walking and hiking with his dogs which are his favourite animal. Seeing the benefits of what was happening, my daughter kept up the regular riding routine.
Ryder appeared to enjoy the whole process. He loved the volunteers and instructors. Soon there was a bond between him, the horse and the people he trusted. We began to notice changes. He was no longer afraid to approach the horses, touch them, groom and feed them.
“Can you see the yellow ball Ryder?” “Yes,” he answered. “Over there.” “Is it bright yellow or pale yellow?” “It is bright yellow,” Ryder replied. “Is it big or small?” “It is big.” Ryder was not only developing muscle tone during his therapy but he was using his brain power while on the back of a horse.
Ryder completed a set of lessons in June just around his fifth birthday. He was to begin kindergarten in the fall and was due for a speech assessment. After the assessment, the speech pathologist was very excited about the results. She explained that Ryder had been quite delayed in certain areas in his last assessment but, this time, he was in the average range. “What had we been doing?” she asked. “Hippotherapy,” I explained. “We can sure see the benefits!”
Ryder has been coming to Valley for two years and continues to ride once a week. He is talking in five to seven word sentences and is developing dialogue. I cannot say enough great things about the wonderful therapy Ryder receives at VTEA because they have helped make a positive change in Ryder’s life. I value the friends and enjoyment Ryder experiences while he is at the centre. He feels right at home.