Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

NEIGHBORS >> Beyond Therapy

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Special needs children learn about horses and life skills at ranch

It’s not unusual to see horses in Ward, but this spring some very special horses will be working in a covered arena just off Peyton Road.

The horses are part of Beyond Boundaries Equine Assisted Therapy Center, a non-profit organization using horses in therapy for children with disabilities.

“The horse is the only animal on earth that when you’re sitting astride them, it moves your pelvis and trunk as if you were walking,” explains Stacy Alberson, an occupational therapist at Beyond Boundaries.
That movement is what makes hippotherapy, from the Greek word hippo, meaning horse, so beneficial to clients at Beyond Boundaries.

“Can you imagine what that means to a child who has never walked or walked at a normal gait?” Alberson said.

Hippotherapy, coupled with traditional therapy, has been used with people with cerebral palsy, Downs Syndrome, autism, attention deficit disorder, spinal injuries and brain injuries just to name a few.

“We’ve had autistic children speak their first words on the horses,” Alberson said. After hippotherapy, Alberson says children walk with a smoother gait, fall less and are more aware of their environment.
Children who are shy or timid discover that when they speak louder, the horse hears them and will respond.
Evan Horton, 3, of Maumelle, has autism.

Since starting hippotherapy at Beyond Boundaries four months ago, his mother, Leigh Anne Horton, says the changes have been amazing.

”Evan has bonded with this horse at Beyond Boundaries named ‘Little’,” she said. “When we get there Evan gets real excited and touches Little’s nose and says ‘nose’ and touches his ear and says ‘ear.’ Evan’s improvements can be seen away from Beyond Boundaries as well.

“Evan used to not talk very much at all, but he uses words from therapy at home. He says ‘down’ and ‘up’ and ‘treat’ now. When he sees a horse on television or in his toys he says ‘horse.’”

Beyond Boundaries was founded in 2004 by staff members and therapists from Allied Therapy and Consulting in Cabot.

Currently, Beyond Boundaries has five horses and 14 licensed occupational, physical and speech therapists registered in hippotherapy by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.
“We position the client on the horses to use the movement the horse creates to most benefit the client,” Alberson said.

The therapists at Beyond Boundaries take into consideration a lot of factors to benefit the needs of the client during each session, everything from the stride of the horse to whether to use a saddle or just a horse blanket.

“For example, some children who are motor impaired will focus at balance. You won’t always see them forward astride on a horse, they might be seated backwards,” Alberson said.

All of this is done with the therapist being constantly aware of the way the horse is moving and how it is affecting the child physically and emotionally.

Another program offered by Beyond Boundaries is recreation riding for clients who have progressed through the hippotherapy stage. “Children in this program may want to be more independent with their horse such as learn how to lead the horse, how to rein and how to brush the horse,” Alberson said.

The recreation riding program is taught by Jamie Carmen-Reagan, a non-therapist, who maintains advanced riding instructor certification through the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

Beyond Boundaries also offers a competitive sports riding program which is geared toward the competition level of horse sporting events such as the Special Olympics.

“We try not to turn away a donated horse, but it takes a very special horse to be a therapy horse because we have to be very choosy,” Alberson said.

She describes a typical horse at Beyond Boundaries as being between the age of seven and 18. The horses had jobs such as a show horse, trail horse or herding horse from a farm.

Currently Beyond Boundaries works with 32 clients at a outdoor corral donated by Jim and Brenda Bobbitt of Sherwood. Once the Ward stable and enclosed arena are completed this spring, Beyond Boundaries will be able to work with clients five days a week regardless of the weather.

“Our hopes is to offer therapy for adults and for our Ward location to someday be a national research and training facility for therapists and riding instructors,” Alberson said.

In August, Beyond Boundaries hopes to bring more than 200 people to the Ward/Cabot for the 2006 North American Riding for the Handicapped Association Region 8 Conference.

“We have a tremendous need for donations including donations of labor and materials for our construction,” Alberson said.

There are several ways for people to make other tax-deductible contributions to Beyond Boundaries, a 501-C3 non-profit organization such as adopting a horse by paying for its food and vet bills or adopting a family by paying a client’s co-pay for the sessions.

For more information on Beyond Boundaries, contact Stacy Alberson at (501)772-3211.