According to the American Hippo-

therapy Association, “The term hippo- therapy refers to how occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech- language pathology professionals use evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipula- tion of equine movement to engage sensory, neuromotor, and cogni- tive systems to achieve functional outcomes.” Many of the goals for students of the

occupational therapist and the behav- ior analyst are the same. “Some of these clinical goals are sequencing, crossing midline, eye tracking, following direc- tions, eye contact, communication, fine motor skills, asking for help, similarities and differences,” Meris explains. “For example, for sequencing we use grooming and

Both horses have had many training sessions. At right, Zayla watches as ping pong balls pop out of plastic cones.

tacking. We have to use each brush in a certain order and the saddle pad has to go on before the saddle. We also work on crossing midline by brushing from neck to belly without switching hands or we pass an object from one side of the horse to the other. If the student wants to walk they have to follow the prescribed directions before the horse moves. Even the fact of getting dirty is a big deal. We also do fine motor skills, like writing while sitting on the horse.” The horses seem to like their ‘extracurricular activities’ with the children. Hero is a people-pleaser, and Zayla is happy to take a break from her dressage training. “Hero has a presence and is aware of what is going on,” Meris says. “He is also a very balanced horse, always stand- ing square. He has three good gaits, a very even tempo and natural collection.” The quality of his movement and balance is particularly helpful for many of the children; Meris says that for some, “just the gentle shift of the horse’s weight can disturb the kids.” Dealing with that shift in weight is easier when the movement is smooth! Zayla is big moving, smart and toler-

ant. “Zayla is always testing her limits, however with the kids she is very patient. I think she likes having a job, but doesn’t want to work very hard, so she is always looking for the easy way out,” she says. “Therapy work, in the amount that Zayla is used, is not physi- cally hard for her, so she enjoys it.” In addition, Meris says, both Zayla and Hero enjoy all the extra attention.

Hippotherapy Preparation Meris has had an interest in therapy work for many years. “I had volunteered at an NARHA (now called PATH) center

52 May/June 2018

in high school and then volunteered for aquatic therapy in college, so I had some knowledge of the need,” she says. In 2011, she became PATH certified. “All the stars aligned, and I was running out of excuses not to do it,” she admits. Because of other work and career goals, it took until the fall of 2017 for her to officially open up her facility for hippo- therapy lessons. She receives compensation for the lessons at her own facility, but she doesn’t seek to make a profit, only to break even. “I do this for the reward it brings me, and as a service to the kids,” she says. Meris highly recommends the support and guidelines

offered by PATH. “Horses are dangerous and working with special needs children and horses makes it even more dangerous, so there is really no reason not to be certified. PATH has a set of standards and resources that are very useful. Not every child is a candidate for horse riding and PATH provides those guidelines,” she says. Turning her own riding horses from personal mounts

into hippotherapy wonder ponies wasn’t too difficult. All of her horses had good basic training along with a solid foundation in dressage and were already expected to put

Hero during a hippotherapy session.

Photos courtesy Meris Greges

Photos courtesy Meris Greges

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