Natalie, a student at Hold Your Horses, rides a horse at a farm in Maple Plain. Hold Your Horses offers hippotherapy, which involves a therapist providing treatment with a horse. Submitted photo: Kirsten O’Hara Gordon
What: A fundraiser with food, a silent auction and music.
Where: Pergola Farm, 6824 County Road 6, Maple Plain
Numerous doctor appointments, clinics, questions and stares are part of daily life for many families who have a child with a disability.
But there's a farm in the west metro where a therapy session takes place on a horse and not in a clinic.
"It's one of the programs that I don't quit, and I won't until he can't do it," said Terry Kirley, about her son Maxx's therapy with Hold Your Horses.
One day while bringing her son Maxx to preschool at St. David's in Minnetonka, she saw a flyer for Hold Your Horses, a non-profit organization that provides therapy with the use of a horse for clients who have a disability or mental health issue.
Her now 11-year-old son started therapy at Hold Your Horses when he was 4 years old.
This type of therapy is known as hippotherapy, which uses occupational and physical therapy through horses to improve daily life for the clients. Research shows that hippotherapy can increase head control, core strength and stability, enhance vocalization and socialization.
"For Muscular Dystrophy hippotherapy is just excellent," Kirley said. "On top of being very physically good for him, it was also sensory-wise going to be very good for him."
Kirley said despite Maxx's progressive disease, he continues to have a good range of motion and can still walk, which she credits to Hold Your Horses.
"What it did for him was bring him out of his shell, it got him physically more fit," she said. "I'm so thankful I saw the sign at St. David's."
Kirley gives credit to Janet Weisberg, the founder and an occupational therapist at Hold Your Horses, for being able to make a connection with Maxx.
"She was able to draw him out," Kirley said. "He just got on that horse and Janet made it really fun. He was doing all these great stretches and all this range of motion stuff and he didn't know it. He was just having fun. Even to this day I don't think he realizes the workout he's really doing."
Business is mostly word-of-mouth. When families come in, they have a consultation and assessment with Weisberg to see if hippotherapy is a good fit.
Hippotherapy promotes movement in the pelvis, allows clients to see where they are going and requires them to adapt to the changing terrain.
"Those are all therapeutic elements that go into the horse as a treatment model that are very hard to replicate in the clinic," Weisberg said.
The six horses were hand-picked by Weisberg based on their temperament and tolerance.
"They're part of the team, they're coworkers," she said.
Weisberg has seen breakthroughs in her clients, from being able to sit better to giving a horse a command for the first time.
"I don't see sadness in my kids, I see ability and joy," she said.
Along with hippotherapy, Hold Your Horses also offers adaptive riding lessons where clients who don't require hippotherapy can learn about horse back riding. Also offered is equine facilitated psychotherapy, which helps clients address mental health issues.
Molly Deprekel, who works at Midwest Center for Trauma and Emotional Healing in Minnetonka, comes to Hold Your Horses twice a week with clients.
Most of the work done with EFP is done on the ground while interacting with the horse. Some people are not able to open up to other humans, so they will talk to the horse.
"For kids sometimes it's like 'I can have a secret with a horse?'" she said. "It allows them just to form a relationship and be able to speak it and maybe they'll say 'OK Ghost will let me tell you now.' So it's a bridge," Deprekel said.
Deprekel said interacting with a horse helps clients understand human interactions because when a client is tense, so is the horse and that's an interaction the client can see.
"They're good lie detectors," she said. "Horses are sensing beings."
Weisberg discovered hippotherapy as her calling by chance. She was working in New York for a public relations firm when she decided to play hookie one day and stumbled on a farm that was providing hippotherapy.
"I had kind of an epiphany. So I went up the woman who was facilitating the class and I said 'how do you get to do this work and how can I help you?'" she said.
Weisberg founded Hold Your Horses seven years ago. Previously she worked for a similar organization called We Can Ride.
A client from We Can Ride bought a home in Maple Plain on a large property and wanted Weisberg to continue to work with a child who has cerebral palsy.
Now Hold Your Horses serves about 60 clients a year. The organization recently reached non-profit status.
Some insurance companies reimburse for the service. Weisberg said they take clients of all financial needs and work with families on what's manageable.