Katrina Curtis, Byron Center
When my daughter Cora was two years old she was still struggling with lack of physical strength, muscle coordination, and core muscle use. She was receiving PT and OT, but we were both frustrated with the results. Cora was doing the same thing over and over at every visit with little improvement. It didn’t help that I would diligently work with her between those therapy sessions on the homework the therapists gave me. I was being a great mama and helping my child improve, right? YES, I was being a good mama, but I was also boring my daughter to the point of frustrated tears on both our parts. I was so focused on her achieving the goals that were given to her that I totally ignored what was literally right in front of my face.
You see, I have been a professional horse trainer for over 30 years and with the birth of my daughter Cora I had taken a step back and cut down on the number of clients and horses that I had in training at my facility every month. Don’t get me wrong, I still rode and worked with others, but Cora was the new priority. She would often be in the in the house during most of my horse related sessions. Once she was strong enough, I brought her out to a play pen near the arena. It was seeing Cora light up while she watched the horses that gave me the idea to get her ON a horse.
You’d think that having her on a horse would have been my first inclination. The adage is true though, that we often don’t see what is right in front of our eyes. Cora started riding a horse after she received the required neck x-ray from the pediatrician. I felt like a failure and a success at the same time. A failure that I hadn’t tried this sooner, and a success because I finally did get Cora on a horse.
Long story short – Cora’s physical strength and core strength increased with the use of a four-legged friend that whinnies. She would ride at a walk gait with a side walker and I would lead the horse while giving Cora little tasks to complete. For half an hour at a time, life was filled with laughter, a child, and a walking horse. I immediately saw improvement in Cora’s strength and coordination.
How? It’s called Equine Hippotherapy and here’s how it works. A horse has a walking gait which mimics a human’s walking gait. As the horse walks and the child rides the horse, the movement that works through the body of the child is the same as the child physically walking. The brain does not process that the child is riding a horse. It instead processes the movements as physically walking and therefore the muscles respond in the same way. Cora is 6 years old now and is still riding horses. The physical strength and coordination this kind of play offers has been wonderful for Cora’s progress.
One of the greatest blessings that this journey with Down syndrome continues to teach me is to look outside of the box for the answers that Cora needs. After all, Cora doesn’t do anything the usual way. She traditionally finds her own way and achieves a goal in her own time. Another thing this journey has taught me: Cora will achieve any task handed to her if given the respect to achieve it in her own time.
If you are stuck in a rut with your kiddo’s therapy, think outside of the box. A task usually has at least five ways of getting it done. Society has taught us that there are only two ways to do something – the right way and the wrong way. I encourage you to shake that theory up a little bit just like our kiddos do daily. That extra chromosome they were born with? It comes with a “thinking outside of the box”, “watch while I do it upside down and sideways” genetic makeup. It’s a positive attribute in a stringent world.
Down syndrome is a blessing which allows us parents many opportunities to walk along side our kiddos and ENJOY life – one moment at a time. But, we should remain open to the unseen blessing that will be delivered in a different way. And if a horse is involved, even better!
Katrina Curtis and her husband Scott live in Byron Center, Michigan on a few acres they call We-N-Us Ranch. Their slogan is “Where Courageous Kids and Special Horses rub elbows”. If you would like more information on Equine Hippotherapy and getting your child involved, you may contact Katrina on her Facebook page or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.