HUGE congratulations to Sadie who has won the prestigious PATH Intl. Equine of the Year Award for Region 10 (CO, UT, WY, AZ, NM) and is also up for the International Equine of the Year award! We are so proud of Sadie who’s been one of our four-legged therapists since 2006! Next time you’re at Hearts And Horses, be sure to give her an extra pat!
Therapeutic riding has a long history of helping veterans with traumatic injuries, so when Meredith Hodges decided to focus an episode of her television documentary series on hippotherapy, she knew she had to include a Wounded Warrior. If you’ve seen the “Walk On” episode of Those Magnificent Mules, you may remember Army technician Natasha McKinnon, then 24 years old, who had lost her left leg below the knee following an IED explosion in Afghanistan. Under the supervision of riding instructor Mary Jo Beckman, herself a retired Navy Commander, Natasha was working to improve her physical movement with therapeutic riding. In the program, they used Army caisson horses and Natasha bonded with one equine in particular, named Mini. She describes Mini as “a big, white, comfy couch” who watched over her like a big sister.
Now 33 years old, Natasha has finally reached a place she can describe as her “new normal.” When we spoke, she had just picked up her diploma from North Carolina State University, where she’d recently graduated with a degree in animal sciences. Although school took a little longer due to some challenges, her determination and love of animals kept her pushing forward to achieve her goal. Armed with her new degree, Natasha is looking forward to working as a veterinary technologist, seeking more hands-on experience after concentrating on her studies in school. She says she would also like to work with veterans’ groups that use animals for emotional therapy and healing.
Today, Natasha can reflect back on her injury, acknowledging that it “lit more of a fire under me.” Like many returning soldiers, she says there have been mental and emotional ups and downs. At the same time, however, she says: “It puts things more in perspective; for me to really not take things for granted. I have to be more mindful of my physical well-being than ever before. I’ve been dealt this hand but I can still manage it.” New advancements in prosthetic equipment have also improved her outlook and her confidence, as she can acquire different legs for different purposes, such as walking and running. The technology is evolving, she says, and so is she.
The following is a guest post from Hearts and Horses, the Loveland, CO-based equine therapy center.
Last week, Meredith Hodges came out to Hearts & Horses for an incredible day of professional development for the Hearts & Horses staff. During the day, Meredith demonstrated training and equine handling techniques, using Allie and Sadie, the two mules that she donated to Hearts & Horses. Hearts & Horses staff spent time in the classroom and in the arena with Meredith as she shared her training tools that aid in effectively communicating with equines while developing their balance and working toward conditioning, so they can perform to the best of their ability as equine therapists and in any other career.
<p”>While Hearts & Horses focuses on equines as Therapeutic Partners, Meredith’s training techniques are invaluable for horsemen and horsewomen of all backgrounds.
Meredith and Lucky Three Ranch have been long time supporter of Hearts & Horses and all of our diverse programs. We so value her support and guidance and look forward to our continued partnership and friendship in the future! Thank you Meredith!
<p”>Click here for more information about Lucky Three Ranch including tours, training and education opportunities.
In 2007, when Meredith Hodges decided to film a television documentary about therapeutic riding, she headed to Loveland, Colorado-based therapeutic riding center, Hearts and Horses. There, she met five-year-old Sarah Foley and her mother, Diane. Sarah was born with generalized body weakness, making it difficult for her to perform tasks that required any sort of physical stamina or strength. Luckily, Diane is a physical therapist, and began looking for creative ways to help strengthen her daughter’s body. A pony ride at a friend’s birthday party immediately captured Sarah’s attention, and she began hippotherapy when she was two years old. By the time we interviewed her, Sarah had moved from hippotherapy, where the horse was being used as a modality to assist with her low tone, to therapeutic riding, where she was developing riding skills, controlling the horse independently of her volunteers.
Today, Sarah is twelve years old. We caught up with her and Diane to talk about how their lives have changed since that original interview. Even now, Diane notes that riding plays an important part in Sarah’s life. “She is still riding once a week,” said Diane. “She’s kept it up pretty much the entire time.” After a period of vast improvement, in which she was showing no signs of disability or physical deficits, Sarah ended up developing arthritis. Diane termed it “A little bump in the road, so she got more active in horseback riding, and has now overcome that also.”
When we speak on the phone, Sarah sounds like any bright, happy and enthusiastic preteen. “I’m feeling really good,” she says. “I love horseback riding, and I swim a lot, and I like playing with my dog.” She dreams of becoming either a teacher or an actress on Broadway some day. Sarah still does her riding at Hearts and Horses, and is now paired with a speckled gray horse named Boomer, that she describes as a very big challenge—but one that’s very close to her heart. “If Boomer went up for sale at Hearts and Horses, ever, I would buy him just like that,” she says. In general, Sarah describes horseback riding as an empowering experience: “I feel like we have a connection kind of. I can do anything when I’m on a horse. “
Sarah eventually moved from needing the assistance of two sidewalkers and a leader to only a leader. With the increased strength and confidence, Sarah’s instructor began to incorporate preliminary vaulting moves to strengthen her core and sense of independence. She was thankful for the assistance of the side walkers though, as it showed her she was capable of amazing things even in her first days of riding. “It made me feel more confident in myself, that I could ride on my own,” she recalled. “As [I used] the side walkers less and less and less, I started to get more confident … and finally I’m to the point where I am right now.” Equine therapy is more than just physical rehabilitation, as it also focuses on training people to be better riders and gain confidence, regardless of their starting capabilities. “I’m a really good rider now because of horse therapy and what they did for me,” says Sarah, also pointing to the inspiration of her parents: “My parents had a big part in it, making me not quit horseback riding and keep going with it—not that I would want to quit, but they would not have let me quit, that’s for sure.”
At the age of twelve, Sarah has accomplished a great deal in her life already, but describes it with an air of humility, simply saying, “It’s been a long road.” As advice for other people in her position, she stresses the benefits of positive thinking and optimism. “I think that anything can be overcome,” she says. “Maybe not always physically, but overcome mentally,” adding that physical transformations are sometimes possible too, like her success with arthritis. “I think people can do anything if they really, really want to,“ she says, and it’s clear that Sarah’s unflinching belief in that statement, along with her equine therapy, will help her accomplish anything she truly desires.
The following is an excerpt from a post by The Donkey Sanctuary.
Luminiţa (which means ‘little light’) has cerebral palsy and learning difficulties. When she was brought to the Don Orione orphanage she had signs of being institutionalized, including being extremely withdrawn, banging her head and pulling her hair out. She was unable to walk but has since had an operation and access to a physiotherapy programme, including donkey riding therapy three times a week through our Romanian project, to combat her leg stiffness and increase her leg and core strength.
Her physiotherapist Carmelia is thrilled with her progress, Luminiţa can now walk with support and is gaining the strength to stand and climb. Her character has also grown and she has become a happy, inquisitive little girl who clearly loves her time with the four donkeys, Boss, Claudio, Ioan and Sile. She also benefits from learning about caring for the donkeys, grooming them and understanding how important it is for them to be happy.
Carmelia added “It can be difficult for these children to learn to empathise and relate with others but each moment with the donkeys is a simple and rewarding interaction. The donkey’s needs and movements aren’t complicated like those of humans. Movements or affection can be taken at face value and the children learn that they are safe to form positive relationships that are rewarding for the children and the donkeys.
“In addition, the donkey riding therapy provides enormous physical benefits for Luminiţa as she builds her balance and stretches during her sessions. Her legs can be very stiff but riding therapy helps to loosen her muscles and make her more comfortable.”
For more information, check out The Donkey Sanctuary’s original post here, or learn more about Therapeutic Riding from our page.