Many people who see Samantha as she walks into the barn at Equest each Friday for her lesson probably wouldn’t understand how having Down Syndrome affects her. She is an adorable child, with a sassy personality and a smile that lights up a room. She strides through the barn like a seasoned campaigner, greeting all her friends and confidently going about her business of preparing for her ride. “The first social worker that walked in the door-”, says Brenda, Samantha’s mother, “she was two weeks old-and they said ‘You need to get her riding at Equest!’. We had to wait until she was 2 years old. That was 2 long years of waiting and knowing that there was a therapy out there that was going to be a good fit!”
Samantha, “Sammie” as she is called at the barn, started the Hippotherapy at Equest in the Fall of 2003. Hippotherapy means “treatment with the help of a horse” and specifically at Equest refers to physical therapy on the back of a horse. Cindy Thomas, licensed physical therapist and the Hippotherapy specialist at Equest, recalls, “She was 2 years and 2 months old. At that time, her legs were in a very wide abduction, a common problem for children with Down syndrome, and Samantha’s wide stance created lateral bending of the trunk, meaning she shifted her upper body side to side to balance herself.”
Brenda knew that equine therapy was “It was an interesting therapy”, and once Sammie actually began the program, “we realized that traditional physical therapy- where they would put her on an exercise ball and kinda bounce her around” fell significantly short of what Hippotherapy offered her. At 2 years old, even wither regularly attending traditional physical therapy sessions, Samatha’s lack of muscle tone made it impossible for her to walk. “Once we got out to Equest, we realized that the horse is taking place of the therapy ball, and it’s just so much more interactive for her! With the sights and sounds of the horse and the barn, plus interacting with the volunteers that are sidewalking alongside of her, Hippotherapy just became therapy she didn’t realize was therapy!”
“Sammie entered into the Hippotherapy program and the wonderful news was that by the end her first session she went from kneeling to half kneeling, to standing on the back of the horse – which is typically a 2 year movement pattern!” marvels Cindy Thomas.
Although she has a cognitive delay that affects her processing skills, her biggest hurdle in life has been low muscle tone that affects every muscle in her body. Cindy Thomas remembers how quickly Sammie’s strength and muscle tone improved, “Therapeutic riding doesn’t start until age four in our program. Samantha progressed with such speed that even though she began Hippotherapy at age 2, she was ready for therapeutic sports riding right at age 4.”
Since Sammie has sat in the saddle, she has continually delighted the staff at Equest with her heart and spirit. The toddler who didn’t have the core strength to hold her body straight is now an active member of Equest Show Team, and competes at regional horse shows on a regular basis. Brittany Aspen, Samantha’s Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor, states, “Going to competitions is really important. It’s Sammie’s chance to show her progress and what she can do. It’s a very nerve racking and fun experience. It gives her a chance to be independent and do what able-bodied riders can do. We all go to shows and show what we know – and Sammie can do it, too!” Brenda says, “Samantha’s progress wouldn’t be possible without the program at Equest and all the wonderful volunteers and therapy horses that have helped her each week! Thank you all!”
To donate to Equest in honor of Samantha, click here.