Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Courage Reins

This has been a week of horses!

We were very excited last Thursday to be invited by Bridgette's physical therapist to participate in the Kids on the Move hippotherapy program. The program is used primarily for children with syndromes and autism, but they created a second class recently to try to incorporate more children with gross motor skills and language delays.

I have always wished we could join but didn't think we would ever be asked. However, Betsy (PT) has recognized that Bridgette really likes and responds well to animals. The class had a couple of openings mid season, and she asked if we'd like to fill a position.

Technically, children are not allowed in the program until they are two years old, but Bri is so tall and physically able that we snuck her in. Plus, she will be two in less than three months.

We had to get a doctor's permission slip, so I called B's pediatrician. A tech was my go-between on the phone, and after talking with Dr. Savage, came back and asked, "Will someone be helping her ride?"

The question rather shocked me into laughing.

"Of course!"

"Oh, OK!" she said. "Sure!"

In terms of therapy, the rocking motion on a horse makes kids compensate by adjusting their own hips and trunk, a similar motion to walking. Also, they encourage the kids to command the horses themselves, hopefully increasing their ability and desire to talk. There are other advantages too, but those are the ones that apply most to Bridgette.

As Betsy was leaving our home, she mentioned that I shouldn't worry if Bridgette cried. She said that every child cries the first time.

Every child.

So we decided to do our own introduction to horses over the weekend in an effort to prepare Bridgette for her first hippotherapy class this morning, Tuesday at 9 a.m.

-- Our Horse Schedule --

Saturday (Day 1): Ride a zebra carousel and a rocking-horse. Rocking-tiger. Ahem. Tigger.


Day 2 (Sunday): Take a family stroll to the end of our street where two mares foaled within days of each other early this week.

Our city's motto is "A Little Bit of Country" -- you can see why.

As an aside, Jeff and I are planning to move, but the house we hoped to buy was snatched up before we could even make an offer, only a few days after it went on the market. Apparently we weren't the only ones who figured its value. For this area of Utah, the square-footage per dollar per year-built worked out to a beautiful deal. Also, it was surrounded by fields and loads of horses (plus a few cows and chickens and dogs). It was just our style. But I guess we didn't jump fast enough, so now we're back to looking.


Day 3 (Monday): Visited our across-the-street neighbor, Patty, who has spent her whole life riding, competing, and caring for horses. Currently she has two older geldings (ages 18 and 22) in her backyard and a young mare in training at a ranch.

When I explained Bridgette's situation, she was more than happy to let us into the paddock to meet and pet Louis and Norman.

Here is Patty with ... oh I just forgot his name. He's 1 year old and presented us with a beautiful snake he had hunted in the bushes.

King Louis the Nipper

Norman is very friendly, but he had just been fed when I took this photo and really preferred eating to visiting.

On Day 3, we also read several horse books at bedtime. We took no pictures. For once you are spared.


Day 4 (Tuesday, this morning): The day of reckoning!

The horse farm that hosts these precious young children and their noble steeds is called Courage Reins. It is located in Highland, Utah, and it is fabulous.

We were the first to arrive.

Protocol requires that all riders wear helmets and be escorted by two walkers, one per flank, at all times. Here is how our helmet story plays out:

"Look Bridgette, a HAT!"


The novelty of this hat lasts about 8 seconds. Then she wants to remove it but it's strapped to her head. Ensue pulling on hat, pulling on strap, and general unhappiness. Follow by gentle coaxing and typical distraction measures. Go to meet the horses.

Betsy to head horse lady, "Is that helmet too big? Should we make it tighter?"

Head horse lady, "Yes."

Betsy removes Bridgette's helmet, sticks a diaper in the top, and places it back on Bri's head. Clearly she has done this before. She snaps the chin strap back together at which point Bridgette actually screams.

Me, "Ummm... I think her skin is caught in the latch."

Betsy, "I don't think so."

Me, "Yeah. I'm pretty sure."

Bridgette is thrashing her head now, so it takes Betsy a few seconds to get it unclasped. True enough, Bri has two bloody pinch marks under her chin. And now she is inconsolable. From this point on, a helmet is not an option. We try to placate her by petting the horses. Lots more thrashing. Finally she calms down because I let her take pictures with my camera.

Then Betsy tells me that I can sign a parental helmet waiver which I agree to, gladly. It takes a while to locate one. I guess it's pretty rare.

Here is a photo, a la Bridgette's perspective. I bought this shirt in Jerusalem in 2000. It's one of my favorites actually. At the top it says:

?איך אתה מרגיש היום

The phrase is read from right to left and sounds like "Ech ata margeesh hayom?" Since syntax is different in most languages, literally translated it means, "How you feel the day?" and is sub-printed with options. Some of them are faded and washed out. One even has a sparkler burn-hole through its face.

Please note our natural earth-tone colored outfits. They were chosen specifically to suit the occasion, and the horses couldn't stop complimenting us.

By the time Bridgette calmed down, enough kids had arrived that she had to wait for a turn. They use three horses per session, and each child rides for 15 minutes.

Bridgette crawled around on the super dirty cement for a while before we pulled out some toys. This is Betsy playing puzzle with babs. Bridgette even allowed Betsy to hold her (a first), and Betsy loved it so much, she wouldn't put her down until it was Bridgette's turn to ride.

This is a photo I took while Bridgette was waiting her turn. Three volunteers attend each horse and child. One leads the horse, two act as guards. You can see the full-sized horse in the back, a Shetland to the left, and the pony in the foreground. Initially Bri was going to ride the full-sized, but the delay landed us on Hella instead.

Because of Bridgette's sensitivities to people (except other children), they asked me to be one of the guardians today. Betsy was our photographer / videographer.

When it was B's turn, I told head horse lady (I really must learn her name, she was lovely) there would be no meet and greet. My instincts told me that would set her off. I put Bridgette directly on her pony, and seconds later we turned the first barrel. She did great! No tears at all.

The girl leading Hella said she has volunteered for 8 months now and she has never seen a child not cry the first time. The girls were really impressed by how well Bridgette did and kept commenting on her "cute chubby cheeks." Chubby? Ha. They should have seen her a year ago.

One of the barrels is piled high with small stuffed animals. At every pass, we stopped to get one. We would hold it very far to one side or very high in front of her so she had to lean way out to reach it. She grunted a lot in the effort but was always very pleased at her success.

On the far side of the arena she was asked to throw her stuffed animal through a basketball hoop. "Throw" is one the few words she says and one of her favorite actions.

Here is video demostrating "throw." You'll notice how she hesitates at first. Eventually, I realized why. You can't hear it very well, but I say something else about her being left-handed and switch the toy from her right to her left. That's all it takes.

At the end of the video, you can see her reaching for me. Although she didn't cry, after 5 or 6 passes, she started signing "all finished." I chose to take her off before her full 15 minutes had elapsed, hoping to make this first experience as positive as possible.

And to finish up, this is the very nice head horse lady helping Bridgette dismount. Although B was perfectly happy with head horse lady holding stuffed animals out of reach, once they were in close-proximity, Bridgette's people-sensitivities kicked in rapidly. So much for the cute photo of them together. Maybe someday.

After we loaded up, Munchkin was filthy and content. I know it sounds crazy, but I felt like I saw improvement after only one session. Initially she wouldn't hold the reins, but by the end, she was holding on with one hand. She also tried some new words! She would point forward and say, "Go!" which actually sounded more like, "O!" but was accurate enough that they tried to get her to say, "Walk on!" instead. She never did, but she did say, "Wah!" and that was close.

There's this small part of me that's afraid she did so well today that they'll call me tomorrow and tell me she can't be a part of the program. Or that, yes, she really does have to be two, so please wait until July to come back. But until we hear otherwise, we're so grateful to participate!


Tammy and Alvin said...

Wow! What an awesome experience. Glad it went so well. And as a side note: keep us posted on the house hunting. We find the ups and downs of that whole process very interesting! Good luck.

April said...

Oh how fun!!! Caleb did that a couple of times before his trach and we loved it! I'm so happy you get the opportunity! YAY!

Lore said...

How wonderful! I hope it goes as well or better next time. I am so happy she has this opportunity.

Love you.

Jacqueline Miller said...

What a great experience!! I'm glad it's making a difference, such a cool program.

HeatherH said...

Love the horses! It's so wonderful she gets to participate in something like that. She looks good and the pictures are all so cute!

Kelly said...

What a neat opportunity!! I love programs like this.

Lore said...

Did her second session go as well?

Smith Family said...

Poor girl getting her chin pinched! I wouldn't want to wear a helmet after that either!