I had a stroke about six years ago that left the right half of my body useless. No feeling, no control, nothing. Despite my skepticism about getting on a horse at first, I started hippotherapy at Silver Lining Therapy. At that time I could not toss a ball where I wanted to toss it, do much of anything with my right hand, ride in a car for more than an hour without extreme discomfort in my rib cage or do common sense things like turn left from a stand still unless I made a series of right turns because subconsciously my brain did not want my right foot to be the active foot. I did not trust my right side to do anything that might challenge my balance, and therefore my safety.
Now my hippotherapy day is my favorite day of the week. The specific therapy routines/exercises that we would do, on and off of the horse, have propagated into daily functions. An example would be learning to toss a ball (grip and release using the hand while moving the arm) has led to trimming bushes and disposing of the limbs neatly. Hand exercises, both on and off of the horse, have led to tying knots or peeling bananas or picking up objects. I can now use a kitchen knife with my right hand. The constant motion of the horse has increased my core strength so that I can ride in a car for a long distance. Recently, I drove to Big Bend and back by myself. Not once, but twice, without experiencing pain in my rib cage. When I need to turn left to go out a door, I now do so without thinking about it instead of making three right turns. Forcing me to lean to my right while on the horse by extending my right arm to grab an object from someone walking on the right of the horse taught me that it was now okay to use my right side and there was very little threat to my safety.
I was asked recently if I had any recent ‘success’ stories. I thought for a while and then I realized that the ’success’ stories were no longer few and far between, but were coming so frequently that I no longer looked upon them individually, but as subconscious building blocks to increasingly difficult functions. Only the difference now is that the functions are no longer difficult. There are challenges still, but now they don’t scare me.
I look on hippotherapy as an inverted triangle, with the point towards the bottom and the triangle expanding outward while moving upwards. The more I do, the more I can do. Overcoming my subconscious brain, the part of the brain that says ‘safety first’ even when there is no threat to my body, is the biggest challenge that I faced. Being able to do that while riding on an animal that I initially feared was my biggest accomplishment. The therapists at Silver Lining have the experience, expertise, and dedication to enable me to far surpass my dreams to return to an active, even productive, life style.
We keep expanding that triangle upwards and outwards.