James was born in December of 2008 and is our little prince. He was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and also a visual impairment called CVI. The thing about James is that he is unstoppable! He has such a wonderful drive and passion for life. He is adaptable to new situations, which helps when we meet so many therapists and doctors regularly – each with their own idea of how to proceed with his care and development. One of his doctors recommended hippotherapy, and Special Strides specifically as a form of Physical Therapy that was thinking a little outside of the box. We are always interested in new and fun ways to help James to grow and develop.
In the spring of 2011, we met with Susie and we were excited to start as soon as possible. James was hooked from the first day. He loved the horse, being outside, and all of the new sights and sounds that were around him – not to mention smells! Hippotherapy is so helpful to James because it takes his legs, and the need for standing out of the equation. His horse, Johnny, takes over for a while. He can focus on learning balance and gait through Johnny. They became fast friends and James couldn’t have made us more proud.
As parents of a child with special needs, we are excited by every goal that James achieves, no matter how small. It is heartwarming to see him work so hard and have so much fun at the same time! We have only been going to Special Strides for a little less than a year and his posture is fantastic, both on and off the horse. He no longer needs the handle to hold when he is riding, and has just started using reins to grip. One thing that we love about Special Strides is how they have shown us that therapy can be fun. James has two favorites besides Johnny – the trampoline and the air pogo. The number of pictures that we have of James with pure joy on his face is too high to count! The knowledge that he is strengthening his body is coupled with the bliss that we feel seeing our son have a wonderful time.
We know that James is an amazing, happy, beautiful boy, destined to have a great life. It means the world to us that the team at Special Strides feels the same way, and has become a part of investing in his future. We look forward to many years here; and we know that the sky is the limit for our little prince.
Like most parents of a child with special needs, I eventually learned that while it’s good to have a positive outlook, it’s really important to set realistic expectations. That’s why I was so surprised when Susie asked me at the beginning of Michael’s second physical therapy session whether I’d noticed any difference in the past week …. Really?? She expected results after one session??
Our sweet, happy, loving, adorable Michael is missing a little part of his brain which affects muscle tone, balance and vision. Michael is 2 years and 8 months old and has been receiving therapy (OT, PT, DI, and ST) for nearly 2 years and even though he’s really determined and tries so hard, progress is usually pretty slow.
Michael’s therapists have always helped guide me and set expectations. So, Susie’s expectation of results so quickly threw me a little….but I was soon to discover that, as usual, the therapist knew better than I did. Michael was sporadically taking maybe 1 or 2 steps when we started therapy in the middle of November 2011. His EI Physical Therapist, who is wonderful and has a wealth of experience and has worked so very hard and with such dedication with Michael, was delighted that he was starting to take independent steps but warned me that this would take time and patience….he might not take more steps for months to come. This is before he started physical therapy with hippotherapy.
By mid-December Michael was walking from the far end of our kitchen, through the living room all the way to the front door…without touching anything. He’d had 4 or 5 therapy sessions using equine movement at that stage. Without a doubt the dedicated and passionate staff at Special Strides and those amazing horses have impacted my son’s life in such a huge way. Those gorgeous horses patiently walk along with a beautiful rhythmic gait while my son pulls at their manes and smacks their rumps in between working on fine motor skills with Susie.. Michael loves it, his stability and balance have come on in leaps and bounds. He’s still very wobbly, falls at times, prefers to hold Mommy’s finger than to walk unaided but I truly believe that we wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are now without the introduction of hippotherapy back in November. For us hippotherapy is a big piece of the puzzle needed to help Michael find his feet.
Every lock is said to have a key, One day in April 2011, I found that key for me, when I began my hippotherapy with a wonderful group of people through the Special Strides hippotherapy program.
I am an adult who was born with cerebral palsy.
Susie Rehr, my physical therapist for this “journey,” and her team of very dedicated volunteers, make hippotherapy a very unique experience, as they find a way to tailor their program to the needs of each individual’s abilities, from children to adults.
And in my case, Susie had quite a task ahead of her, at least in my opinion.
Age and time for me began showing itself through more and more difficulties with my daily life of living with cerebral palsy, and slowly I began to lose the independence of my mobility.
And for me giving up hope was never an option.
Through hippotherapy at Special Strides that is exactly what these therapist and volunteers do; they will turn over every proverbial rock to find the right answer for you, keeping that hope alive, and the results of participating in the hippotherapy program at Special Strides is nothing short of miraculous to me.
As I have begun to regain the mobility I thought may be lost to me.
In riding my horse, I find a connection and a freedom of movement that brings me such serenity.
It is amazing to me how the horse retrains my gait through their strides, and gets me moving again.
It seems almost “effortless” on my part, but believe me it is hard work for me and the horse.
My “journey” with my ever patient and caring physical therapist, Susie, and the other fabulous people and horses in Special Strides Hippotherapy program still continues….
And for that reason I am forever thankful.
Michael and Marshall are best friends. Michael is a five year old little boy living with multiple special needs and Marshall is a Special Strides therapy horse. Michael has been through what no parent could ever imagine for their child. Everyday has been a struggle. Yet, Marshall, the horse, does something for Michael that no doctor or therapist is able to do.
On the day of is birth, June 14, 2003, our son Michael’s heartbeat was lost during routine labor. An emergency C-section was performed and physicians worked on him for five minutes to bring him back to life. He was admitted into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where he remained for two months. Michael was diagnosed with Quadriplegic Spastic Cerebral Palsy. He cannot walk, talk, eat or sit up by himself. His severe motor problems have left him wheelchair bound and full dependant for all of his wants and needs. Michael understands everything. Most of all he understands when he is going to see Marshall his favorite horse at Special Strides.
As Michael’s parents we have tried all types of therapies. It was not until we found Special Strides that we knew we had brought our son to the right place. Little did we know the effect the program would have on Mikey. His connection to Marshall and the farm cannot be explained with words. You have to see his smile during a session to begin to appreciate what Special Strides has done for him. Just say “Marshall” to Mikey and he starts to glow. His overall improvement in coordination and especially his head and trunk control is due in part to the therapy he received at Special Strides. We are so proud of his progress.
Special Strides is an important part of Michael’s life.
Tara & Michael
When you meet my daughter, Amanda you will encounter an outgoing young lady whose sense of humor and talkative nature make it difficult to grasp the struggles she’s encountered and the obstacles she’s overcome. On any given day, you might find Amanda rockclimbing, practicing a new cheer, or riding her favorite horse Summer at Special Strides. Yet, not that long ago, none of these things would have seemed possible given Amanda’s difficult history of living with a traumatic brain injury.
As a five year old, Amanda was diagnosed with a very large brain tumor. After her first surgery, her condition was equivalent to that of a newborn infant. She was unable to talk, eat, or sit up. Everything would have to be relearned. As her mother I faced a myriad of challenges in learning to care for a disabled child who would come to require multiple surgeries and shunt revisions.
When Amanda first came to Special Strides she couldn’t even sit by herself on the horse. Now, you would never imagine that my 13 year old girl, who jokes with the therapists and even flirts with the boys, is that same child with overwhelming special needs. I feel a sense of pride when I watch Amanda as she confidently drives her horse around the paddock. It is clear that Special Strides is a program that gives families the hope of the future for their children they once wouldn’t allow themselves to imagine.
Some people call me unfortunate, some have called me unlucky. I consider myself blessed. I have three special needs children, Bradley, Abigail, and Timmy. At six months old Abby was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and at two, Bradley was diagnosed with Autism. My hands were full and my future uncertain, but my husband and I persevered. We got the best therapies for our children and at five years old both Bradley and Abby entered mainstream classrooms.
I desperately yearned for a “normal” child. In April of ’99, the big day arrived! The entire family was excited to welcome this new baby, but that perfect child was not meant to be. Timmy was deprived of oxygen for a period of time and suffered brain damage as a result. This time, I knew I had a child with severe disabilities.
Since I had been down this road before, I traveled hundreds of miles to find the best therapy. Unfortunately, Timmy was uncooperative. He usually screamed through all his therapy sessions! But my husband and I pressed on.
In the spring of 2001, I heard about Special Strides. We went to observe a session and were fascinated! It was not therapy, it was fun! I enrolled all three children in the program. To say the least, it was putting a tremendous financial strain on my family. But in response to my plea, Timmy was awarded financial assistance from the Steven Werthan Memorial Fund and was able to continue to ride in the program.
Abby and Bradley are now 16 and Timmy 9. I am grateful to all who help support Special Strides. When you see their smiles and hear the laughter, you can’t help but smile along!
My children have taught me more than I could ever have learned otherwise: patience, faith, friendship, commitment, simplicity, unconditional love. Now that is a blessing!
Rene and Tom
Last night as I was about to sit for supper. My daughter put my granddaughter on the floor across the room. Penelope crawled across the entire floor for me to pick her up. At that very moment, a prayer had been answered. Thank you all for that something special you do.