When Alex started her job at Suffield Fire Dept. one of the guys approached her asking about her son with Down syndrome. He then went on to tell her that a local speech therapy place contracts his stables and horses to do hippotherapy with children. He encouraged her to check out and said that Jax was probably old enough to do it. It was something that we definitely wanted to try with him and we talked about it quite often.
Fast forward a few months to when I saw that this speech therapy place had posted on facebook that they were starting a hippotherapy session this fall. Immediately we got super excited and called to find out more. We had to get the ‘ok’ from Jaxson’s pediatrician, and to have him cleared with his low muscle tone and the potential neck problems kiddos with Ds can have. Once we got the go ahead from his doc, we took him in to Speech Language Works to have him assessed on their end and make sure it was something he would be ready for, something he would physically capable of doing, and something that he could benefit from. We were over the moon excited when he was ‘approved’ to start hippotherapy!
The weeks leading up to his first session were filled with crazy anticipation. We talked about how he would handle it, and how cool it will be to see him on a horse. We were convinced that he was going to love it….. well it didn’t quite go how we thought!
The first day of hippotherapy was all about familiarization with horses. They started by letting him visit with the little pony first. Then it was time to put his safety belt and helmet on. Well that was the beginning of the end! He lost it when we got the helmet on and was impossible to console. Non the less we took a screaming Jaxson to meet the horse he was going to ride for the duration of the therapy block. Her name is Zoey. Zoey is BIG compared to little Jaxson. They hefted this screaming 2 year old onto he back and took him for the shortest ride in the history of horse rides. Jaxson continued to cry the entire car ride home and finally settled when we got home.
At this point we were pretty sure we just threw a ton of money straight down the toilet. Definitely not how we planned it happening! We worked hard over the next week on getting him desensitized to his helmet, which definitely helped!
Each time we went back to hippotherapy he would cry less than the time before and was able to ride Zoey for a bit longer. By his 4th day of hippotherapy there were no tears and he rode her the entire time. Each week after that he got more and more excited to see Zoey and be on her. The last couple weeks his favourite thing to sign is ‘please horse’ and he literally is signing ‘horse’ for everything!
Since the hippotherapy he was doing was targeted at speech he had an SLP walking beside him. They would sing songs, sign, work on making verbal sounds, play games, play with little toys and do little activities.
I’m not going to lie, I don’t like horses…. When I was a kid I was bit by one and got my foot stepped on by one. I’ve also been to a surprising amount of tragic fatal accidents as a paramedic involving horses. They are big and they scare me. But seeing Jaxson on Zoey has totally changed how I feel about horses. It was honesty the most amazing thing to witness, and a couple of times I welled up. She was so responsive, gentle, and was very sensitive to his needs. We were told that Zoey is naturally a very fast walker and they have to almost do a light jog to keep up with her. Well when Jaxson was on her they couldn’t get her to pick up the pace! The person leading her would be almost trying to pull her with the lead and she would not walk any faster than what she was doing. She knew Jax was a little guy and could feel he was not super steady on her, so she walked slow. SO AMAZING! By the last couple of sessions Zoey was starting to walk faster as Jaxson had learned how to be more stable on her, but the second Jax would lean back to pet her she would press the brakes and slow right down! Seeing Jaxson ride Zoey was honestly one of the most amazing experiences to be a part of.
I have saved the best part for last….. Let’s talk about the gains and results we have seen from hippotherapy. The HUGE thing is Jaxson is walking while holding our hands!! The improvement in his strength is incredible!! Not only does he want to be on his feet, the second his feet hit the floor he is taking steps. From the kid who literally REFUSED to put any weight on his feet for over a year, this is a miracle. He is still quite unsteady in his hips, but once he figures out balance he will be off and running. We have also noticed a HUGE improvement in his signing and verbal banter. The sounds coming out of his mouth are constantly changing and he is picking up new signs like there’s no tomorrow. Yesterday while we were working on making the ‘mmmm’ sound, he put his hand to his chin, signed ‘momma’ and VERBALLY SAID “mmmmmmom” with ZERO prompting! He did it twice in a row and 3 more times today. MUSIC TO MY EARS!! There is not a doubt in my mind that all of these gains are a direct result from hippotherapy
I can honestly say that hippotherapy has been by far the best form of therapy we have done! We are so very thankful for the opportunity to do this with him and can’t wait for the next round to begin.