CONTRIBUTED BY DASHA GARIEPY
Interacting with horses like Sprite and Coke helps kids with disabilities
Hippotherapy actually has nothing to do with hippos, and everything to do with horses, as the Greek word for horse is hippo. (Bonus points if you knew that hippopotamus means “river horse”.) Hippotherapy means literally horse therapy, and according to the American Hippotherapy Association:
“…promotes the use of the movement of the horse as a treatment strategy in physical, occupational and speech-language therapy sessions for people living with disabilities. Hippotherapy has been shown to improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, motor development as well as emotional well-being.”
All well and good, Professor Dasha, but what does this have to do with Okinawa? Haven’t you guessed, dear reader? Okinawa has stables which provide Hippotherapy!
Yesterday my daughter Heather and I had an amazing time working with a team of volunteers and a variety of special needs children (mostly American) in Yomitan.
For privacy reasons I can’t post pictures of the kids, but I wish you could see the looks on their faces as they interacted with the horses and volunteers. As a general rule, each child worked with a team – one volunteer to lead the horse, and two therapists (or a therapist and another volunteer) to walk along each side of the horse.
The therapists put the children through a series of challenges, based on their individual abilities. For some, sitting on the horse was challenge enough. Others had to choose between colored objects, handing them to and from the therapist, all while balancing bareback on a pony. One little boy rode his horse facing backwards, practicing movements like “arms up! arms out!”
Not all the children were wreathed in smiles. Some very vocally expressed their impatience, displeasure, or frustration with the challenges presented. But they stayed the course for the therapy, in spite of not wanting to participate.
My heart was touched by the therapists and volunteers who patiently and cheerfully worked with all of the kids. But my heart completely melted watching the kids give their all for their sessions – thirty minutes of intense mental and physical challenges that had to be exhausting. Yet some still managed to smile and wave to their parents through it all.
If you have a child with special needs and want to know if you qualify for the Hippotherapy program, or if you want to volunteer as a helper, please contact the Educational & Developmental Intervention Services (EDIS) office located on Kadena, building 9497.