Hippotherapy makes difference

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There are many success stories from Spirit Reins Equine Center near Harrisonburg, but none more dramatic than Eli Terry’s.

“It’s hard to believe that this is the same child that didn’t even make a noise when he laughed just a few years ago and now, well, he won’t shut up,” said mother Heather Terry of Jena. “Anna Borne and the unique hippotherapy she offers made a world of a difference in the life of our child.”

Spirit Reins is a non-profit organization providing speech therapy services both within a traditional clinical setting as well as incorporating hippotherapy as a treatment strategy. It is Central Louisiana’s only equine facility of its kind.

“We serve patients with disabilities including Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Developmental Delays, Social/Communication Delays, Language or Learning Disabilities, and Genetic Disorders,” stated owner and Speech-Language Pathologist Anna Borne. “We know that the human-horse bond has been proven to improve motor, sensory, speech, and behavioral/social responses in individuals with physical, mental, emotional, and communication challenges and by using the horse as a tool we’re able to see improvement in patients’ confidence, self-esteem, and quality of life.”

Established as a ministry of Borne in 2009 after doing extensive research into hippotherapy and realizing the tremendous advantages in using horses as treatment tools, she offers the service to individuals with disabilities.

The word hippotherapy literally means “treatment with the help of the horse” from the Greek word, “hippos,” meaning horse. Hippotherapy is a physical, occupational or speech and language therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement.

“It’s more than just riding a horse,” Borne said. “What we see is that the movement of the horse influences the client and as they are riding they are having to actively respond to the horse’s movements. There are so many advantages of this from a motor skill standpoint.”

Added to this are the sensory stations positioned throughout the course during a

session, where each individual clients’ needs are addressed whether that be speech therapy or other needs.

“It has been proven and we have witnessed the results that the movement of the horse helps every sensory part of the body,” Borne said. “As a result, language from the client explodes.”

“Exploded” is the exact term Heather Terry used in describing her son Eli’s language improvement since he started riding in 2014.

“We started with in-office sessions with Anna in 2012 but Eli was too little to ride at that time,” Terry said. “But in August of 2014 he started riding the horses and my, oh, my, after getting on the horses his whole vocabulary exploded. Seriously, we can’t keep him quiet now.”

Eli was adopted by Reid and Heather Terry in 2011 from Taiwan when Eli was just 22 months old. Diagnosed with Down Syndrome, when they first met him and in the months following back in the states, the most Eli could do was sit up.

“He couldn’t even crawl when we got him and there was absolutely no communication at all,” Heather said. “He was completely non-verbal.”

As soon as it was possible, the Terry’s enrolled Eli in Early Steps programs where he started getting speech therapy once a week. While appreciative of the program, they knew their special needs child would need much more.

“Both Reid and I went to high school with Anna at Harrisonburg and we knew what she was doing with the horses so naturally we knew Eli would benefit greatly from Spirit Reins,” she continued. “He started with the office sessions in 2012 and by August of 2014 he was finally big enough to start riding the horses. That’s when we really noticed a drastic difference.”

Heather said riding the horses affected so much more than just his speech though.

“Every aspect of Eli has improved, including his coordination and balance, so much so that since he started working with Anna and the horses just three years ago he is now active in all types of sports including soccer and basketball,” she said. “I believe it’s the motion of the horse that relaxes the muscles and allows them to work together that has made such a huge impact.”

While there were other factors involved in getting Eli from a non-verbal child who could only sit to an active first grader at Jena Elementary, the Terry’s firmly believe without Spirit Reins they would have never seen this type of dramatic change.

At Spirit Reins, success stories like Eli’s occur every year and Anna considers it a privilege to minister to those with special needs, especially children.

“I feel anytime you are providing a therapy service to an individual with special needs you are ministering to their needs and demonstrating Christ’s love,” she said. “We have been blessed with support from our community and have been able to help many families in our area and in the surrounding areas over the last 8 ½ years.”

Because of that community support, 100 percent of all patients at Spirit Reins receive funding help.

“No insurance covers what it costs to provide a speech therapy session incorporating hippotherapy,” Borne said. “The funds we raise help us provide this service to families who do not have the ability to pay.”

Heather Terry agreed, noting that she can’t imagine the amount they pay covers Anna’s fees, much less the large amount of money it cost to keep the special horses trained for the therapy sessions.

For that reason, the non-profit has several ways the public can assist in providing the necessary funds needed to keep this valuable service available in this area. (See “Ways To Support” box.)

Their annual “Run for the Reins 5K Run/ Walk” and pancake breakfast is set for this Saturday, September 30, at the Harrisonburg Farmer’s Market in Harrisonburg, LA. Registration begins at 7:45 AM with the race starting at 8:30 AM. Visit www.spiritreinsequinecenter.com for more information.

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