Ashlyn had a rough start to life. She suffered a stroke a few days prior to birth, then endured two brain surgeries and a long NICU stay. She’s been diagnosed with cortical visual impairment, cerebral palsy, developmental delay and epilepsy – yet despite it all, she has blossomed into a sassy four-year-old who is rarely content to sit still.
“Her weekly sessions at HorsePlay are her favorite part of the week,” her mom notes. “Not only does she get the movement she craves, but she’s also strengthened her core and developed more signs and sounds to communicate. HorsePlay combines her love of bouncing with the therapy she needs, making it more like play time than work.”
According to Katie Cammack Eller, a speech language pathologist with the center, that is the secret to HorsePlay’s success. Using hippotherapy, a treatment strategy that provides physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy on horseback, as well as equine therapy, an approach that uses equine activities to promote physical, occupational and emotional growth, Cammack Eller and HorsePlay’s team of licensed professionals work together to transform their clients’ lives.
“Hippotherapy has several benefits, including balance and postural control, sensory input, and respiratory support for speech production,” she explains. Then there’s the emotional connection, which Cammack Eller says leads to improved confidence and social-emotional well-being.
When HorsePlay first opened, the center focused on children like Ashlyn with special needs, but soon after the staff identified another community in need – veterans. So, on Veteran’s Day 2021, HorsePlay launched its Rise Up for Veterans program, developed to support military service members struggling with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and other trauma.
Army veteran and HorsePlay client Lavon credits equine therapy with saving his life. “I can come in here and talk to the horses about anything,” he reveals.
That is why horse-assisted therapy has proven to be such an effective model. Cammack Eller explained, “Both our children and veteran clients benefit from the communicative, connective and bonding nature that our horses provide,” she explains. “These horses are making a real impact on our patients.”