Horse therapy is Making a Difference in Hobart

2-year-old Rachel Meyer smiles during her riding session at Exceptional Equestrians in Hobart. (WLUK/Emily Deem)

HOBART (WLUK) -- If just looking at 2-year-old Rachel Meyer doesn't melt your heart, maybe her smile will. Rachel's mom, Becky, is watching her daughter do something she never thought would happen.

"She's being a kid and having fun,” Becky Meyer said.

The Meyers live in Sheboygan. They drive one hour to and from their home to be at Exceptional Equestrians in Hobart once a week.

"Exceptional Equestrians is a therapy clinic that uses horses to provide physical therapy, occupational therapy to kids and adults with disabilities,” explained Nancy Williquette, the director of marketing and development for Exceptional Equestrians.

It's also known as hippotherapy.

It's all to help the riders become more independent. Rachel has cerebral palsy.

“We adopted her from birth. She was born 8 weeks early at 32 weeks,” said Rachel’s mom.

Around 6 months old, Rachel wasn't reaching milestones; she had an MRI and results showed she suffered a brain hemorrhage, which led to her diagnosis.

"She can't sit up on her own. She's just starting to roll over, but she can't walk yet,” said Rachel’s mom.

But thanks to Maverick, the Meyers have a new outlook on life.

"The horse has a three-dimensional movement pattern, and as the horse moves, it impacts the rider and demands a postural response from that rider,” said Lisa Kafka, a hippotherapy clinical specialist.

Kafka has been a therapist for more than 20 years. She's been working with Rachel for months. Workers and volunteers assist Rachel and Maverick during their session, making stops at different work stations in the ring.

Kafka says the activities help to influence Rachel's ability to reach, grasp and use her eyes to help guide her to do things on her own.

"So she can play with her toys better, so she can get her shirt over her head,” Kafka said. “Again, our goals all aim at functional skills that happen in her daily life.”

Kafka says Rachel also has tightness in her upper body; one activity uses bubbles as a motivator.

“It’s a way that I can encourage her to now use all of that new mobility that the horse has given her to move her arms away from her body and use them in a functional way that she should as a child,” said Kafka.

The sessions have been paying off.

"She is able to roll over now; she's using her right hand more,” said Rachel’s mom.

Rachel is getting stronger.

“Because that is our ultimate goal that we improve her function in her daily life after she is off of the horse,” said Kafka

A goal that Rachel's mother prays for each day.

"I would love if this helps her to be able to walk or at least have some independence where she can get from one place to another. As long as she is happy, she gets to do what any typical kid can do, that would be amazing,” said Rachel’s mom.

If you would like to learn more about Exceptional Equestrians, the group is hosting its second annual Boots and Bling fundraiser.

Click here for more information for about the fundraiser.

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