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Horses help children with special needs

For many of us, talking and walking are skills that come as naturally as breathing. But some kids need more help than weekly sessions with a therapist in order to develop these motor skills. And that's where Harmony and Hooves comes in to help.
For many of us, talking and walking are skills that come as naturally as breathing. But some kids need more help than weekly sessions with a therapist in order to develop these motor skills. And that's where Harmony and Hooves comes in to help.

The Harmony and Hooves farm is quiet and serene, that is, until Olivia Miller shows up.

As soon as the 3-year-old arrives at the Benton farm, she's babbling constantly. Even though it's hard to tell what she's saying, Miller is talking - and that's progress.

"She didn't babble," said Ovilia's mother, Brooke Miller. "She didn't 'Mama...Dada,' she didn't do any of that. She was a very quiet kid."

Olivia has childhood Apraxia - a neurological disorder that keeps her from speaking correctly.

"In her brain, she's saying it the way she's supposed to say it but it just doesn't come out the way it should," said Miller.

So Miller went in search of any special kind of therapy she could find that might help her child find what she needs. KidSource Therapy referred her to the Harmony and Hooves farm for kids with special needs.

"With just the right amount of rotation through the body then you get all of this speech production," said speech therapist Sarah Allen. "It works and we're seeing it not just with her but with kid after kid."

It's called Hippotherapy - a physical, occupational, and speech-language treatment strategy that uses the rhythms of horses to achieve whatever the patient needs. In Olivia's case, speech and fine motor movement.

"I'm having progress out here that in the 18 years of doing this I've never had," said Allen.

Therapists at Harmony and Hooves say they know the horses can read body language and are extremely intuitive but they don't know exactly what the connection between the children and the animal is that makes them progress so quickly in just one hour weekly sessions.

"They look into that horses eye and you can tell that horse is looking right back into theirs and its like they have this very deep connection," said Allen.

"There's probably lots we don't know that animals can do for us," said Cathy Hendricks, another rider's grandmother. Hendricks' grandson, Brian, was born with Spina Bifida. The 4-year-old wasn't walking or talking one year ago. Today, he runs and walks and has even started to babble - spitting out small simple sentences when it's least expected.

"He walks, he runs, he runs up and down slides now," said Hendricks. "If they told me to put him on a hippo and paint him purple I would do that if that would help."

"Riding has really helped him get to the point where he is now," added Allen.

It's is a special place where progress is made but, more importantly, where kids like Brian and Olivia can feel safe after a long day of feeling different.

"It's just really fun to watch her enjoy therapy because we've done so many years of therapy where we've pushed and pushed and lots of tears," said Wendie Reaves.

Her 13-year-old daughter, Regan, is diagnosed with Pachygyria, a rare developmental disorder in the brain.

"They told us at that point that by the looks of the MRI films that she'd never walk and shed never be able to talk," said Reaves. "At this point doctors pretty just scratch their heads and say, 'She has Pachygyria? Well she's doing awesome!'"

After just one hour on the horse, 3-year-old Olivia is speaking coherently, even giving the horse commands.

"Let's go lucky!" said Olivia as she kicked the horse into gear.

"We've heard kids that for the first time they look at mama and say mama. And that has happened here several times," said Allen.

Something Olivia's mother says will last for a few days and she'll cherish until next week when she gets to hear her daughter say something new all over again.

Speech Therapist Sarah Allen says every single one of her patients has shown progress since she started incorporating horses into her work sessions. Not all insurance covers the program, but therapists say they're willing to work with you to help find results.

For information on Harmony and Hooves, call KidSource Therapy at 501-315-4414 or visit www.kidsourcetherapy.com.
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