Skipper, One of Our Rescues
It was fate when Skipper, a older gray horse in her late twenties, was rescued from a local horse auction that catered to slaughter buyers. At the time of the auction Jennifer, her owner, was readying herself for college. She had quit riding the horse many years back and was too busy to make sure someone was keeping Little Skipper fed and cared for. It took two years for her to decide, with her mother’s help, that Little Skipper needed to go to the auction. Lisa from A Ranch Horse could not let this under fed horse go to an early fate in Mexico. Little Skipper only sold for $90. and the only person bidding against Lisa was the slaughter buyer. Little Skipper was thin and unkept but jumped right into the trailer for a changed life. Over the next few months the little mare passed all the exercise drills, veterinary examinations, environment and behavioral tests and horse profiles with flying colors, something, according to Lisa, only about three percent of horses reviewed can do. She still had on ideal how special this little rescue horse would soon be.
Lisa still remembers the day Little Skipper came to the facility located in New Caney, Texas. “the mare still had a look, a sparkle in her eye. She was definitely special. Her eyes seemed so kind, as if she was asking, ‘How can I help and where is the feed?’” it took us a few months for us to see this horses real talent. A real children’s horse.
In hippo-therapy a child and horse work together with the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced therapist. Riding a horse moves the rider’s pelvis, legs and trunk in a rhythmic and repetitive way. The horse’s walk provides the rider with essential sensory input that simulates the human gait. With children who suffer from muscular disorders, the horse’s body warmth reduces muscle spasms and increases the child’s hip and leg flexibility. The child’s nervous system assimilates the information this movement provides, resulting in many significant, sometimes amazing, sensory and motor gains. A regular program of hippo-therapy gives children notable improvements in mobility, strength, function and coordination. There is no machine, no human, and no team that can offer the same benefits. Only a horse suited for this type of activity will work. And Little Skipper was about to do what the medical community could not do.
This was what Terri Jones read in the local horse magazine article about A Ranch Horse. Her daughter, five-year-old Megan, was born with quadriplegic spastic cerebral palsy and was asthmatic. She had already had brain surgery to repair a malformation. Her immobility left her dependent on her family to dress her, brush her hair and teeth, and feed her. Numerous medications and surgeries partly decreased her muscle spasms. The casts on her arms were intended to one day increase her mobility. In the meantime, she was unable to play and run like other little girls. Terri hoped that A Ranch Horse could help Megan and after a short talk with Lisa, plans were made for Little Skipper and Megan to meet in June 2002.
The perfect horse for a little girl with this condition is a little horse and Little Skipper was that horse. A special bond developed between Megan and Little Skipper that started with their first ride. Megan loved the power and freedom that riding Little Skipper gave her and the horse loved Megan’s gentle pats and kisses on her muzzle. this was attention Little Skipper had not seen in many years. Megan experienced a new relaxed and happy feeling that followed each hippo-therapy session. It lasted all day and helped her sleep through the night. After Megan’s first ride on Little Skipper, Terri noticed an immediate difference in her daughter’s body. “When I carried her into the barn [for her first session, her legs were so tense that] she could hardly get her legs around my waist. After her hippo-therapy session, her legs were so loose, she had no problem getting them around my waist.” In time, other problems also diminished. If Megan sat facing forward on Little Skipper to steer (hippo-therapy uses lots of positions), it didn’t bother her so much to separate her legs. The typical painfulness of Megan’s physical therapy for tight and spastic muscles virtually disappeared. In place of the hunched over little girl who sat miserably looking down and complaining of how tight she was, a tiny, giggling sprite was sitting up, pulling her shoulders back, and lifting her chin to see between Little Skippers ears. Megan was in control of on area of her life, even if that control was only steering a small horse, and she loved it.
As the weeks of hippotherapy proceeded, new activities were added to Megan’s therapy. Little Skipper accepted without complaint the tasks that Megan’s therapists devised to increase her reaching; Megan hung toy rings over Little Skipper’s ears; she tugged on her mane and tail. Next Megan lay on her stomach while riding. Little Skipper did not mind being bumped in the flanks; she gave no irritable head tosses. Little Skipper enjoyed her routine with Megan and may even have understood in some way that Megan needed her to be quiet, consistent and strong. Megan enjoyed her rides on Little Skipper and the new positions. The once shy little girl was shy no more. She rallied others to cheer for her and made requests that they find her even more challenging riding positions. The new challenges brought new successes for Megan.
It has been almost three years since Megan began riding Little Skipper. Her confidence fills the air each time she is in the riding arena. The planned surgeries to help release hip and leg muscles that both doctors and therapists had thought were inevitable have been canceled. As long as she has little Skipper, her hips and leg muscles are better than any surgery could make them. Before she started riding, Megan’s long fatigued days led to sleepless nights, which led to much higher muscle tone, which led to more fatigue: an unending cycle. Because she sleeps better on the days she rides, her muscle tone is lower, more normal, the following day. She has more normal cycles of rest and alertness.
Before Little Skipper, Megan had no interest in, much less time for, hobbies. Her life was an endless cycle of therapies. Since Little Skipper, she envelops herself in horses. She reads about horses, colors pictures of horses, watches any movie with horses, and has real friends who also love horses. Her new friends are children she has met at A Ranch Horse, and she is comforted by this. She calls them on the phone, plays with them on the website face book, and talks with them endlessly about how much they love horses. She has a normal little girl’s life and she has hope for her future. All from a $90. horse that no one wanted.
The older girls in therapeutic riding do positions on their horses that she has not yet tried. They are role models for her. She watches them and wants to ride like they do. Megan is herself a role model for younger children with cerebral palsy. Their dreams grow because she gives them hope. With hippotherapy they all have a future that was not possible before.
As for Little Skipper, at twenty-some years, she is an old girl now, even for therapeutic riding. But as long as she seems to enjoy it and as long as her body can handle it, she will patiently carry children on her gray back, her gentle nature, and her perfect size and gait making her the ideal therapeutic horse.
After 15 years working with horses and people we have been lucky enough to been involved in many aspects of horse rescue. Many of these horses that are passed over for more “perfect” animals have a place on this earth where they are needed and loved. The very horse someone has abandoned could be a star in someone else’s life. We have a horse facility in Trinity, Texas donated to horse rescue and helping people reach their personal dreams. If you would like to see our rescue horses please click here. If you know someone who could benefit from this program please contact me direct at 281-744-2197.