This weekend we took Evan for his hippotherapy evaluation. Yes, that means exactly what you think, he is going to do therapeutic activities on a hippo. Just kidding…..Or maybe you are thinking he is going to be hypnotized, ala hypnotherapy. Neither is correct, but don’t feel bad if you aren’t familiar with the term either.
Hippos is the English translation of the word horse in Greek. Thus, hippotherapy is the use of a horse in occupational, speech, and/physical therapy. (I did not know the etymology of the word until I started doing this blog entry)
|Not sure about this horse stuff, Mama.
Of everything we have tried, this was one therapy that I was super excited for, but I also had no clue how it would go, or how effective it would truly be. I knew Evan would enjoy being around horses and spending time with adults and young people at the farm. I also have a love of horses and I have ridden horses several times in my life. But I had a hard time imagining him doing well on a horse, and I wondered how exactly it would help him to progress. When he wasn’t walking- not all that long ago!, both his physical therapist and Dr. Mervis, the researcher we see in Kentucky, suggested that we look into hippotherapy. Dr. M’s exact words were, “Get him on a horse.” She felt it would help strengthen his core., which in turn would help with his language development and walking. I started looking into it last spring. I found a lot of local places that did recreational horse therapy, but not hippotherapy. Apparently they are similar but it is harder to get insurance coverage with the former because it is not done by a licensed therapist. I called around, asked questions, looked into our insurance and decided it would make sense to wait until the fall when we were back on my insurance, which has better coverage overall.
And then as luck would have it, one of my new warrior mama friends (who I practically cyber stalked-a story for another day) suggested this horse farm. She had taken her daughter here for hippotherapy and raved about it. She also was very happy with the support the therapist gave her as far as getting insurance to acknowledge the therapy and get most of it covered. Sounded like a win-win situation to me! So off we went to do a barn tour and then an evaluation was scheduled.
We set off to Brandywine Occupational Therapy
and the wonderful Miss Lauren. My mother went with me, which was very helpful. The occupational therapist asked a lot of questions and it was nice to have a second pair of hands to keep Evan close by while we were having him climb on the playground equipment and walk around. Her extensive knowledge in the area of occupational therapy is evident and it made me feel very at ease to know Evan was in good, professional, educated hands at this facility. She used technical terminology and offered reasons for things that Evan does, while also giving praise for different things he has recently started to do. It’s always heartening to know your child’s therapist really knows her stuff. And Evan’s really do.
At first, I was worried Evan was not going to dig the horse experience. He started this low whine when they put his helmet on, and he kept looking around like he wanted to anywhere else but at this farm. Then they had him use a mounting block (bc she thought he could handle it-which thrilled me) and got him up on the horse. He kept doing this low whine and squinting his eyes, like he does when he doesn’t like the food you offer him. My heart sank, because I really had such high hopes for him. (which translates to high hopes for me- I need to work on that) Luckily, as often happens with Evan, the waiting and anticipation of the activity can sometimes cause him to whine and get impatient. But once they started to move, and the horse began to ebb and flow beneath him, it all changed. After a few short moments he started to say, “Whee!” and “Neighhhhh.” His whole demeanor changed. He held on tightly and kept his back erect the whole time, not waivering at all. I thought for sure he would try to get off, or lean side to side but I was very wrong. The therapist started to try different things, like going diagonally across the ring, doing figure eights, and stopping and starting. When she would stop, she would ask Evan to tell the horse to “walk.” He just kept saying, “Neighhh!” Then she suggested saying, “Go, Vixie!” (the name of the horse) After two times modeling for him, he did it independently when she stopped!
I was floored. We are working hard on two word combinations, but I never thought he would do one so quickly, and with a new therapist, on a horse!!! But looking back, that is probably precisely why he did respond so quickly. No need for bells and whistles when you have horses! (thanks Aimee for that realization) He probably spent about 15-20 minutes straight on the horse with no signs of fatiguing. He was especially fond of saying, “Hi! How are you!” to the young lady who was helping on the other side of the horse. He didn’t tire of looking at he and batting his big blue eyes at her and smiling before shouting, “Neigh!!” all over again. The natural feeling of riding a horse is so significant for a child like Evan who seeks sensory input all the time. He loves movement, bouncing, being upside down, rocking, etc. And a horse provides all of that in a controlled, organized way.
Sorry for the shakiness, I was trying to keep up with them with my cell phone camera. If you listen closely at the end, you’ll hear Evan exclaim, “Vixie!”
So the biggest deal of the whole experience was when he had to get off the horse. She said “Ok, Evan, we’re all done now, we have to get off the horse.” He responded by gripping as hard as he could onto the handles and sticking his bottom lip out as far as he could. She pulled him off, handed him to me and he went in to full blown teary meltdown. He wanted to get back on her so badly. I can’t really put into words how this hit me emotionally. I can say I definitely welled up with tears. Not so much because I was sad for Evan, but more because I was so excited at how much he connected with the horse, and how he truly was sad he had to get off. Evan has such an easy going temperament. He does not throw a fit when I drop him off at school, in fact, he will walk up to almost anyone, saying “Hi!” and he does not seem to lament the fact that his mommy or daddy are leaving him. (believe me I know how enviable that is) But that also means he does not display other typical behaviors, like an affinity for things that mean something to him. So to see him feel true sadness because of how much he LOVED being on that horse, it just filled me up inside.
He kept saying, “Vixie, Vixie,” on the way home and I showed him the video a few times. So now when he sees my phone, he says, “Vixie, vid-ee-oooo”
I can’t wait to take him again.
And to see how she is going to work on self feeding goals on a horse.
Somehow, I trust it will work.