What a difference two days can make!
That’s what we hoped we’d be saying when we completed our working weekend at McKenna Farms in November 2011. Favored by perfect fall weather, our team tackled the late summer weeds, mowed, stained wood, restored a bridge to its rightful purpose and place on the sensory trail, and replaced worn parts along the way.
By late Sunday morning as we put tools away and began packing, we were indeed marveling at what a difference two days can make. We’d completed our list of chores and scoped out our next project – building an enclosed viewing room so parents could watch their children’s progress during therapy without being a distraction to their child’s session.
However, it wasn’t our efforts that we praised. The “Wow!” came from our amazement and sheer joy of of watching the kids who came for therapy during our visit. Being given the opportunity to observe first-hand the miracle of hippotherapy and therapeutic riding, we began to understand the value of this therapy at a much deeper level.
We had seen Giselle, one of McKenna Farms therapeutic riders, emerge from her mom’s car on Saturday morning. She held onto the hood for balance and then took her mother’s hand so as not to fall. Her head wobbled as she held her mother’s arm during their slow walk to the barn where she disappeared inside.
Momentarily, Giselle appeared again, this time on horseback. The transformation in this pre-teen was stunning! This once wobbling girl carried herself with grace and near perfect form on top of the horse. Her newfound balance nearly took our breath away. For the better part of an hour, she perched atop Major, one of the therapy horses, while he cantered and navigated hurdles repeatedly at her command.
“At school, Giselle is the girl who has trouble walking,” Jessie, McKenna Farms’ Director, explained. “But here she does something that no one else in her fifth-grade class can do.”
Our collective “Wow!” then morphed into an aha moment. When, like Giselle, you’re the one who’s never been the best at many of the things we often take for granted—like walking, jogging or skipping—moving with sweet freedom in this beautiful and graceful way on a horse is like taking flight. Not only did her physical body work hard but her confidence soared.
Later that afternoon, another therapeutic rider named Sarah arrived for her session. In 2010, Sarah rode in the Special Equestrian Olympics for the first time. As she watched the parade of police officers carrying the Olympic torch, Sarah dreamed of riding in that parade. In August, 2011, her dream became reality.
Sarah almost missed her chance for that glory when she fell off her horse before the parade. Well-meaning bystanders rushed to her, sure she’d be too frightened to continue. But not Sarah. “Put me back on that horse!” she said. “I fall off all the time. It’s nothing.”
Yet another “Wow!” moment. Sarah’s determination and perseverance was refreshing.
On the Other Side of the White Fence More Children like Giselle & Sarah
Following our work and observation of Giselle and Sarah, Jessie told us about the children with great need who are not coming to McKenna Farms. She talks with their families every day: the ones who don’t qualify for Medicaid or other forms of assistance; families who are above the poverty line, but all of their resources are exhausted with basics such as food, housing, and transportation. These kids need hippotherapy and therapeutic riding. Their doctors have prescribed it, just as Giselle’s and Sarah’s did. Their world, too, can be changed from one of helplessness and frustration to one of achievement and the joyous elation of dreams come true.
Our goal, with the continuing help of our Global Giving community, is to hand the reins to these kids, as well, by offering scholarships to children in need. Thank you for your ongoing support of these exceptional kids.
Since 2008, Jacob's Fund, the U.S. program of The Red Thread Promise, has been giving disabled kids hippotherapy at McKenna Farms in Dallas, Georgia.
Now, on our first mission trip to the farm, we'll get physical with our efforts. Individuals and families will travel from several states to the farm in Georgia to work the weekend of November 4, 5, and 6.
The farmhouse turned offices/therapy rooms will be transformed again, this time into temporary sleeping quarters for the individuals and families who'll mend broken fences and care for the Jacob Beachy Sensory Trail.
This sensory trail consists of multiple stations, each of which stimulates one of the child's senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Children ride their therapy horses from one station to the next around the circuit, interacting with brightly colored shapes, chimes, natural textures, and other stimuli.
During our visit, we'll begin planning a future mission blitz: erecting a viewing room along one end of the covered arena. The viewing room, equipped with a one-way window, will allow parents to observe their child while undergoing hippotherapy without creating a distraction that could interfere with the child's progress.
We'll take measurements and begin listing the materials and supplies we'll need when we return to erect the room. That trip is targeted for spring 2012.
"Here's Ricky. He loves riding on Major." Our hearts lifted when we saw Ricky and heard those words. Major was Jacob's horse. Jacob's Fund, the US program of The Red Thread Promise is named for Jacob. Jacob, who was happiest when he rode Major, died at age three. Giving that same happiness to other children is our way of remembering Jacob and seeing that his generous, caring spirit lives on.
Ricky is a sweet six year old. He'd never been on a horse, but after just two hippotherapy sessions at McKenna Farms, he was trotting around the arena.
Ricky's a new patient at McKenna Farms and a new Jacob's Fund scholarship recipient. For children like Ricky, who has ADHD and some behaviorial problems, the world can be a confusing, and sometimes hostile place.
But on Major, Ricky's improving his motor, attention, and congnitive skills while learning to control Major's movements using the reins, his voice and body movements. On Major, Ricky is able to relax, focus and positively receive the therapies he needs.
McKenna Farms has a waiting list of patients like Ricky who need help, but whose parents can't afford the cost. Each month McKenna Farms' board members meet and part of their job is to evaluate needs and decide which children they can help with Jacob's Fund scholarships.
You, as a Global Giving donor, help Ricky and other kids at McKenna Farms.
Ricky's been able to keep an uninterrupted schedule of sessions thanks to the newly installed covered arena, now getting the finishing touches. He's able to ride under cover from the hot sun and rain on a regular basis, without missing sessions due to temperamental weather.
With walls up and doors installed, the indoor arena at McKenna Farms is almost ready. In June, children, therapists, parents and supporters will host a grand opening. And whatever the weather - rain, Georgia's summer heat, or the occasional winter snow like those that happened this winter - hihppotherapy sessions will be uninterrupted.
That's vital for the patients' progress because progress builds with each session.
Little Patricia, who will soon start hippotherapy at McKenna Farms, is one of the children who will go through those newly-opened doors. Patricia turns four on May 4, 2011, and now Global Giving's donors can help her turn a corner in her life as well.
Patricia's speech is delayed, but her family is very poor. Without Global Giving donor's, the prescription Patricia's doctor has written for hippotherapy might not be filled, and Patricia would continue to suffer in silence.
Hippotherapy improves speech and vocabulary. During Patricia's sessions, the horse's gait will allow her to experience movement that strengthens her core. The horse's balanced, rhythmic motion stimulates the underlying physiolgoical systems that support her speech and language functions.
We're looking forward to the day when little Patricia, like many of the children who come to hippotherapy never having spoken a word, starts telling her horse "Go!"
Thanks to donors, both new and continuing, Give Kids Hippotherapy So They Can Walk and Talk is providing additional hippotherapy sessions to special needs kids. Jacob's Fund, a U.S. program of The Red Thread Promise, supports these kids at McKenna Farms in Dallas, Georgia, just outside Atlanta.
Tony rode in the Equestrian Special Olympics. Leslie gains strength and coordination every week. Alec has made great strides in balance and coordination. We wish you could see the looks of joy on these children's faces when they are able to balance, speak clearly or learn new skills. Their sense of independence and accomplishment shines through. Your gifts are changing lives.
Hippotherapy isn't a cure for these kids' conditions. Most of them will need continuing therapy for years to come. What hippotherapy provides is mobility, independence, speech - the capabilities and proficiencies that enrich and fulfill our lives - and the wonderful sense of freedom and movement that riding a horse gives.
So our mission is ongoing. With your help more kids will walk across a room unaided into the waiting arms of mom or dad, say "I love you, Grandma" clearly for the first time, and play on the playground.
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