“Twinkle twinkle little star,” sang a little girl during her first horseback ride. Out of context this is unextraordinary but this little girl had never spoken a word in her life before that bright and cloudless day.
The little girl was invited to the farm by its’ owners, Laurie Landy and her husband, to participate in a program for handicapped kids. Landy, an occupational therapist, and the other onlookers at the farm that day were blown away by what had happened. A little girl who had never spoken words before sang an entire song.
Shortly after this experience, Landy decided that she would give hippotherapy another go.
Hippotherapy is a medical model that can only be performed by an occupational therapist, physical therapist or a speech pathologist. The program uses equine movement to produce a neurophysiological change.
Amanda Sowa , lead horse trainer at Landy’s farm said, “Riding (the horse) is so magical and beneficial because it stimulates all senses, muscles and joints.”
Laurie Landy has been a practicing occupational therapist working with special needs children for thirty years now. Her primary focus is in Hippotherapy.
Landy invited another young boy from her class to the farm in hopes that it would help his condition. The boy was unable to walk on his own and used loftstrand crutches to assist in locomotion. Landy explained to the boy’s mother her belief that if he came out to the farm, he would walk on his own. Landy’s hypothesis was proven correct after only two sessions with the horse. The boy began walking on his own.
Landy said, “There is no piece of equipment that works in three different planes other than a horse. When someone is sitting on a horse every single balance reaction is stimulated; every muscle and every joint. At the same time, you are in a pro-gravity position.”
Landy knew this was the kind of work she was supposed to do so in 1998 she started the “Special Strides” program. Special Strides is a 501(C3) nonprofit organization. The program started out with only four clients, one horse and a notebook. In addition, everyone involved with Special Strides worked exclusively as volunteer-workers for two years.
Fifteen years later, Landy has over 130 clients that come on a daily basis and an assortment of horses on the farm. Special Strides also offers four different types of programs: hippotherapy, therapeutic driving, equine facilitated movement and a recreational model.
The program’s clients range in age from 18 months to 75 years, who have disabilities such as Cerebral palsy, autistic spectrum disorders, spina bifida, Down’s syndrome, learning disabilities, muscular dystrophy, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, visual impairments and multiple sclerosis.
The recreational model is a therapeutic model in which the clients learn to ride horses while allowing them to feel good about themselves and have fun.
Therapeutic driving places the clients in carriages behind the horse. It is primarily for adult clients who have medical restrictions that inhibit them from riding the horse itself but it can be used if the client is scared of the horse or if they are too large for the horse.
PATH international was founded in 1969 as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. It was formed to promote safe and effective therapeutic horseback riding throughout the United States and Canada.
Today, PATH International has nearly 800 member centers and over 6,300 individual members all over the world who help and support over 42,000 men women and children with special needs each year through a variety of equine assisted activities and therapy programs.
Landy and her staff will be starting an enrichment program that will take students who are at a very low reading level and allow them to come to the farm to practice their reading and writing skills.
Being a nonprofit organization, two thirds of the Special Strides program relies on fundraising. Therefore Landy and her marketing director have come up with the junior committee; a group of teenagers who raise money for the kids at Special Strides.
Each fall the committee and staff hold a dance where they turn the barn into a huge party. This raises nearly 250 thousand dollars each year. In addition to this, the junior committee just hosted a “color fun run” which raised an 90 thousand dollars.
For those who are not able to afford this treatment the board of directors created the Stephen Werthen fund. The fund is named after a director’s son who passed away and gives out 120,000 dollars to families who cannot afford the therapy. Landy stated “We’re very proud of it.”