Eric leaves wheelchair in the Dust!

By Richard Bissell

Eric is now involved in a very interesting form of therapy. It is called Hippotherapy and takes place on the back of a horse.

The Therapeutic Riding Program which Eric attends is located at White Oak Farm in Jefferson Massachusetts. White Oak Farm is owned by Gisela and Vernon Rhodes. Gisela first became interested in Therapeutic Riding when she was exposed to it in Germany--her native country. She immediately realized its potential. "They've been sitting in a wheelchair, then they're on a horse. Suddenly, they're not looking up at everybody and everything anymore."

Gisela personally oversees Eric's riding sessions. It takes three people in order for Eric to ride the horse. One person guides the horse along the trail while the other two hold Eric up, one on either side of him. The horse Eric rides is a light brown Norwegian Fjord Pony named Duchess. Eric wears a special harness and helmet when riding.

The type of horse used for Hippotherapy is very important. The ideal horse is small, well broken with a smooth gait, and accustomed to various distractions such as noises and bright colors. It must not have a tendency to buck. Duchess fits all of these qualifications.

The motion of the horses back is transferred to Eric's torso. This causes his pelvis to move which mobilizes his hips and lower back. This process increases blood flow to his lower body, improving mobility and unlocking his muscles. It also helps with his balance and stability as it produces the same reaction one would experience while walking.

Gisela was concerned that Eric would be afraid of the horse at first, as many of her young clients are fearful in their initial sessions. Eric was a real trooper and did not appear in the least bit apprehensive. He got right on at the beginning of his first session.

She also thought that he would want to be within sight of his parents at all times. However as soon as he got on the horse he became "Mister Independent." He is out of our sight for most of the session and does not seem the least bit concerned that we are not with him.

Something more important than therapeutic benefit is Eric's enjoyment. After hundreds of difficult traditional therapy sessions, it is wonderful to see Eric enjoying himself. I doubt he even realizes that he is having therapy. When we tell him he is going riding his face lights up with delight. Eric loves the back and forth motion of the horse as it saunters along the green meadows of White Oak Farm. He is able to see things from a new perspective. Everything looks different when you are seven feet tall!

We are very pleased with the progress Eric is making and we are looking forward to him making further strides as he and Duchess work together in the future.