About 20 young Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) patients with cerebral palsy or other physical challenges had the opportunity to go horseback riding recently, an accomplishment many “didn’t realize they could achieve,” as one HSS staffer put it.
The New York-based, academic specialty hospital, which exclusively treats orthopedics and rheumatology disorders, took a group of patients between the ages of 5 to 21 to Endeavor Therapeutic Horsemanship in Mount Kisco, N.Y. Most of the HSS patients who went on the Aug. 28 day trip have cerebral palsy or another condition that affects body movement, muscle control, posture, and balance. Some of them have had multiple surgeries by HSS pediatric orthopedic surgeons and have been patients for years.
Endeavor, a Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) Premier Accredited center, is dedicated to empowering individuals living with physical challenges through the healing potential of horse riding.
HSS Pediatric Rehabilitation Department occupational therapist Christina Pierozzi cites studies showing that people with a broad range of disabilities can benefit from participation in equine-assisted activities and therapies.
“The benefits include improved posture, muscle tone, and gait patterns, or walking,” Pierozzi said in a press release. “These gains can lead to functional improvement in everyday activities like walking, jumping, and running in children with cerebral palsy.”
“Children with [cerebral palsy] can also have muscle imbalances or spasticity, which can impair their motor skills. Participating in a therapeutic riding program can help overall muscle balance, which improves standing and walking.” Pierozzi added.
PATH Intl., a credentialing organization for accrediting centers and certifying instructors and equine specialists, is a federally registered 501(c3) nonprofit formed in 1969 as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association to promote equine-assisted activities and therapies for individuals with special needs.
Today more than 4,800 PATH Intl. certified instructors and equine specialists at 881 member centers around the globe help more than 66,000 children and adults each year overcome physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges, and find strength and independence through the power of the horse.
The trip was one of the outings organized by the HSS Adaptive Sports Academy program at the hospital’s Lerner Children’s Pavilion, which provides recreational experiences for young patients with cerebral palsy and other physical challenges, many of whom use crutches or a walker to get around.
The outings and activities help patients build self-confidence, develop independence, and increase physical activity and mobility.
Previous Academy outings enabling patients to participate in a sport or activity, such as rock climbing, skiing down a slope, or riding a wave on a surfboard for the first time, have proven life-changing for many children and teenagers, the HSS release notes.
The program, supported by the generosity of donors and sponsors, is offered to patients at no cost.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the kids to socialize with other patients and accomplish things they didn’t realize they could achieve,” said Peyton Katz, HSS pediatric patient and family care coordinator. “Some kids are not sure at first how well they’ll do, but they always exceed their own expectations. Some parents cry when they see what their child can achieve.”
“The Adaptive Sports Academy gives our patients a chance to develop new skills and interests, and it promotes mobility and activity. It also reinforces physical therapy goals by engaging participants in a new activity and requiring them to use their bodies in a new way,” said Lisa Ipp, HSS chief of Pediatric Medicine.
“There is also an emotional component. Patients are so excited about what they can achieve, and parents are so thrilled to watch them. The outings have also cultivated connections between families who stay in contact long after the event ends.” Ipp added.