We love animals in our household… in fact, it really wouldn’t feel like home if there weren’t animals around the place! At the last count we have two cats, one reptile, many fish, nine hens and a very handsome rooster named Sid.

And Sam loves each and every one of them; he adores watching the colourful fish in their tank, stroking the cats and laughing at Sid’s comical strutting around the garden! So, when a friend mentioned about taking their child who has severe CP horse riding and what a difference it made to her, my ears pricked up. Although not very good at it, I used to ride in the past and still enjoy the company of horses so I started to research this potential activity for Sam. I rapidly learnt that there is a form of physiotherapy done on horseback called hippotherapy, and that it can be very good indeed for kiddos with disabilities such as Sams. The main issue was availability.

We live in Stoke on Trent and while there are plenty of stables offering riding for the disabled, none offered the hippotherapy we were after. After contacting many stables and being given contacts for OTHER stables I eventually spoke to a wonderful lady based in Shrewsbury. Lyn was a physiotherapist who had specialised training in hippotherapy and was happy to give Sam a try out session, as long as we were happy to bring him down to Shropshire. Frankly, I’d go to Mars and back if it would help my child… Shrewsbury not a problem!

On arrival the first thing we noticed was that we did not stick out as being the Family with the Disabled Child. There were children with all manner of issues here, but all had one thing in common. The moment they sat on one of the horses, they relaxed. They sat up tall, smiles across their faces. Horses are remarkable creatures; big and heavy, they move with a quiet grace and would stop if they felt that the child wasn’t secure. Each child was supported by two helpers, one either side of the horse who was gently led around the paddock by a third assistant. Seeing the profound effect the animals had on these children made us all the more determined that we wanted Sam to try this out, so at the end of the session he was gently lifted on to a particularly gentle pony named Teddy.

Teddy stood patiently while the staff made sure Sam was lying comfortably across the his back – due to Sams low tone he is unable to sit unsupported, so lying on the horse allowed him to experience the therapy and relax. Apparently when horses walk the movement is very similar to that of a human walking… the child has to constantly alter their position subtly to maintain balance, the more experienced children work through various therapy programs involving them stretching their muscles and balancing on the horse without holding on; as this was Sams first time on a horse he was allowed to just chill out! At the end of the ride, as Lyn lifted Sam off Teddy, the pony turned his head and gently nuzzelled our little boy as if to say hello properly. Sam had a huge grin on his face, and we were hooked.

Sam has now been attending fortnightly hippotherapy sessions for over a year. His core strength has improved significantly, as has his sit balance. Due to the unpredictable nature of his seizures and the frequency with which he experiences them he usually doesn’t ride the real ponies, but uses the stables fabulous mechanical horse. This incredible piece of kit mimics the movement of a horse perfectly, allowing Sam to access the benefits of the therapy in a safe manner. During his sessions his therapist will have him sitting or lying across the horse and uses various techniques to encourage him to use his own muscles.

A few weeks ago Sam was able to try out his new found strength and skills riding Teddy, the lovely pony who’d been so gentle with him on our first visit. Let us just say there wasn’t a dry eye in the place as our little boy sat up straight and tall (granted, Lyn had a hand on his back but he did it!). The difference in his strength was evident for all to see, as he watched Lyn tell him what she wanted him to do. Proud mummy moment? You betcha. Its hard work for the children, Sam usually falls asleep during the hours drive home, but the benefits to his overall development and well being have been fantastic.

Would we recommend hippotherapy? Absolutely and without a second’s hesitation.

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