When Janiah's doctor recommended physical therapy utilizing horses, her father thought it would be a fun activity that might also help loosen up her hips. Cerebral palsy made it tough for Janiah to walk by herself, and her dad, Todd, carried her most of the time, even though she was six.
Hippotherapy (a treatment strategy utilizing a horse’s movement as a means of improving coordination, balance and strength) ended up being so much more than a fun activity. It didn't take long to see that Janiah's core was getting stronger from hippotherapy, which allowed her to sit up straighter, and even climb stairs.
After less than a year of treatment, Janiah was able to walk independently with a walker for short periods of time. She can sit for meals at restaurants and share time on the couch with her family without slumping over or slipping off. For a child with disabilities, these simple moments with family are not taken for granted.
Shining Hope Farms is where Janiah and 200 other children and adults receive weekly equine assisted activities and therapies at locations in Charlotte, Conover and Mount Holly. It's the only program in the Charlotte region that incorporates hippotherapy as a treatment tool in the overall therapy plan.
Hippotherapy works because a horse's three-dimensional movement mimics the human gait pattern better than any other tool out there. Patients can learn this pattern simply by sitting on a horse. The spine-on-spine interaction between the horse and rider also stimulates memory and concentration, and, when it comes to motivating a child to participate in therapy, show me a kid who doesn't want to spend time on a real farm with actual horses.
"Being able to incorporate the horse’s movement is like our therapy’s superpower," says Jessamyn Farrell, assistant director at Shining Hope Farms.
This superpower must only be available to families who can afford specialized therapy, right? Not at Shining Hope Farms, which serves the majority of its patients at no cost to families.
"We go to great extremes to make our programs accessible and above and beyond the normal scope of therapy services for each child we serve," says Milinda Kirkpatrick, Executive Director at Shining Hope Farms.
Janiah's story is an example of how the team at Shining Hope Farms goes above and beyond for their patients. She and her therapy horse Sammy grew to have a special bond, but she had to switch to a new horse when she changed her therapy to a different Shining Hope Farms location.
If she couldn't ride Sammy, she at least hoped her new horse would be a unicorn. When the Shining Hope Farms staff heard about Janiah's wish, her new horse, Desmond, became a unicorn. It's just what you do when you're committed to making your patients feel welcome and comfortable.
#GIVINGTUESDAYCLT: AN UNBRIDLED SUCCESS
As a SHARE Charlotte partner, Shining Hope Farms used #GivingTuesdayCLT as a chance to introduce many of their 28 horses to the world with fun and educational videos. Donors could pick which horse they wanted to support. "We ended up raising enough money to feed our therapy horses for 33 weeks, which gave us a real sense of stability going into the new year and beyond," says Jessamyn.
Shining Hope Farms is excited to be part of #GivingTuesdayCLT this year. Stay tuned to shininghopefarms.org and follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out who will be starring in this year's campaign!
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Shining Hope Farms is a true labor of love. Insurance doesn't cover the cost of feeding their horses and other expenses, so the organization has to rely on volunteers and donations to keep costs low for its families, over one-third of whom are living 200% below the poverty line.
"There is nothing more satisfying than being able to be a part of having a child come for the first time and they can't hold their head up, or sit up, or stand, or even talk and then to see them overcome those challenges to achieve significant functional goals and begin to communicate, sit up, stand, walk or even run," says Milinda Kirkpatrick, Shining Hope Farms founder and executive director. "The children and their families absolutely love coming to the farm and seeing 'their' horse. It gives us great joy to share the farm experience with so many wonderful families, despite the intense hard work that it takes to run and manage each location. The children and adults that we serve are worth the sacrifice.”
Grace Kennedy is a Huntersville-based writer specializing in storytelling for nonprofits. Learn more at gracekennedy.net.