by brian bledsoe | photos provided by mcrc
Since the early 1980’s, Midland Children’s Rehabilitation Center has used hippotherapy to achieve functional results in patients that receive physical, occupational, and speech therapies at MCRC. Children as young as two years old are able to utilize the horse’s movement to improve balance, speech, strength, range of motion, and focus while engaging the rider’s sensory, neuromotor, cognitive systems, and core.
Hippo Playday is a day set aside every year in the fall for the sole purpose of letting children enrolled in hippotherapy show-off what they can do to their family and friends. On that morning, as the sun peeked through the clouds, the staff and horses prepared for their precious guests to arrive. This year, the number of hippotherapy riders doubled – but one child, in particular, had been looking forward to this day more so than any other.
Three years ago, Kelvin came into the world born two months premature in December of 2016. It wasn’t until he had missed several developmental milestones and had a doctor witness an intense seizure that he was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at 8 months old. “One doctor told us that he was probably blind and that he’d be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life,” said Mom. “But we didn’t believe that for a second.” It was then Mom and Dad sought out therapy for their son, but despite their best efforts, all their options quickly became too expensive to manage. For diagnoses like Kelvin’s, the cost of therapy services can reach up to $5,000 or more a month in other facilities.
Mom and Dad knew they couldn’t give up. It was then they heard about MCRC and immediately got Kelvin on the waiting list. Once accepted, Kelvin was evaluated by MCRC therapists who worked with his pediatrician, surgeon, and parents to develop a rigorous, two-step, individualized treatment plan.
Kelvin’s plan centered on preparation for a crucial surgery. This surgery would give him the biggest chance to correct what was keeping him from being able to walk. However, there was a stipulation to the surgery. Kelvin, his parents, and his therapists had to commit to a post-surgery plan of at least four mandatory therapy sessions a week or the doctors would not perform the operation. After all involved parties expressed their commitment, the green light was a go for Kelvin to begin therapy.
So much hinged on how hard Kelvin worked to prepare his body for surgery, but it’s not always easy for children to do therapy. MCRC has tools like hippotherapy, therapeutic riding, a therapeutic pool for aquatics and the unlimited dance company that are used within treatment plans. That’s because making therapy fun is the trick to help kids get through, what is often, rigorous and repetitive exercises and activities. One thing was for sure, Kelvin, who was just 18 months old at the time, had the fortitude to work hard! He worked with his therapists to strengthen his body and his parents worked with him at home so that he could get the best results from the operation.
Kelvin’s event was roping – and all of his family showed up to give him their support. You could see it on his face that he was right where he wanted to be, center stage on the back of his horse, the star of his own little rodeo.
All of Kelvin’s hard work had paid off with a successful surgery! After his body recovered, doctors made sure he began therapy as quickly his body allowed – this time with a new focus. Everyone wanted Kelvin to walk independently and eventually play outside! His therapists, Jami, Susan, and Kristal, were eager to unlock the full potential of the surgery. Kelvin’s diagnosis made him a perfect candidate for therapy on horseback. The rider’s movement while on horseback mimics the body’s natural walking movement, which builds that muscle memory in the child despite the child’s ability to walk.
During his appointments, his therapists started to tap into something about him that made therapy easier and more efficient. What they discovered in Kelvin is, literally, a bona fide cowboy. His family ancestry is rich in gritty, spur-wearing cowboys. One of Kelvin’s favorite past times is to watch his dad and uncles practice roping, and when he isn’t watching them, he’s watching YouTube videos of rodeos.
Kelvin’s therapists began to use a lasso during therapy to help Kelvin. Roping “steers” in hippotherapy strengthens his core and completes neurological connections. Swinging the rope in occupational therapy teaches him how to better control his movements. Basically, all you have to do is put a rope in his hands and therapy takes care of itself!
Hippo Playday is a day set aside every year in the fall for the sole purpose of letting children enrolled in hippotherapy show-off what they can do to their family and friends.
This year’s Hippo Playday included events such as the ring tree, flags, roping, trail ride, fishing, mailbox, ball & target, and blowing bubbles. Each activity allowed the participant to show their families the skills he or she learned during hippotherapy sessions. Of course, Kelvin’s event was roping – and all of his family showed up to give him their support. You could see it on his face that he was right where he wanted to be, center stage on the back of his horse, the star of his own little rodeo.
As the day’s activities wound down, everyone was invited to grab lunch that was prepared by the Bennett cook team who has faithfully provided Hippo Play Day families a meal for over 30 years.
Everyone’s expectations are high for Kelvin. With his unwavering spirit, he’ll be roping like his dad in no time! †