Ally and Oliver at their hippotherapy appointment.

How Hippotherapy Helps Ally and Oliver Reach Their Goals

Feb 17 2021

The gentleness of a horse offers a sense of peace, even for the toughest of cowboys. For children suffering from neurological ailments, the movement of this animal has also proven to be life changing.

Thanks to the generosity of Mercy Health Foundation donors, children in the Tiffin, OH area are now able to experience the mental and physical benefits of horses through a newly created hippotherapy program, with services are now being offered at the Kneeskern Family Farm.

Hippotherapy derives its name from the Greek word, hippos, meaning horse. It is not a separate form of therapy. Rather, it can be integrated into existing physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Hippotherapy began in Europe in the 1960s and came to the United States 30 years ago after a group of therapists traveled to Germany to study its benefits. They returned and developed curriculum, standards of practice and certification.

Our new program in Tiffin, OH was great news for two of our patients, Ally (above left) and Oliver (above right). They both previously had to travel to Mercy Health’s hippotherapy services in Whitehouse, OH, which was an hour-plus drive.

Mercy Health – Children’s Hospital is pleased to be the only children’s hospital in the region offering hippotherapy. Again, a big thanks goes out to the Kneeskern Family for offering their farm and their horses to this amazing program.

Ally, 16, and Oliver, 13, have both been striving to accomplish everyday tasks that we often take for granted. For them it is becoming an achievable dream.

“My goal for Oliver is to have him walk across the stage at graduation,” says Oliver’s mother, Jill.

Oliver was Jill’s healthiest pregnancy. But at the age of five weeks, he quit breathing due to “ALTE” (Acute Life-Threatening Event). This resulted in neurological challenges that he continues to strive to overcome.

Ally was able to walk independently four different times in the past. However, each time after a growth spurt, she regressed.

Lesley, Ally’s mom, has seen her daughter gaining core strength, which allowed Ally to complete tasks that she was unable to do before she started hippotherapy, such as using the bathroom by herself.

“The farm is perfect for our kiddos,” Lesley shares. “The horse is stretching her muscles and I’m super excited to see where this takes her.”

“We love hippotherapy,” Lesley continues. “Ally can’t wait to go each week. To us, it’s huge.”

Ally has become close to Bella, the horse that she rides with the guidance of the Mercy Health therapists and Beth Magrum, a Kneeskern family member.

“I was really excited when I found out that Tiffin was going to set up,” Ally says. “It gives me so much more independence. I’m getting attached to Bella and talk about her at home. She’s my favorite. The best part is feeding Bella at the end (of the session) and learning the commands.”

Horses provides consistent movement, rhythm, symmetry and a gait pattern similar to that of humans. This provides patients with movement experiences difficult to replicate in a traditional therapy setting. And for kids like Oliver and Ally, it provides a fun and highly motivational experience.

“The kids work so hard to do everyday tasks,” says Jill. “And the therapists at Mercy Health are great. I can’t thank the people who worked on this enough!”

Mercy Health offers hippotherapy in three locations. In addition to Tiffin, OH and Timberwolff Stables in Whitehouse, OH, the team works with Duke Farm in Temperance, MI.

Thanks to those that support the Mercy Health Foundation and patients like Ally and Oliver! Learn more about the Mercy Health Foundation as well as the health care services we offer at Mercy Health.

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