How a Horse is Helping a Child with a TBI

By: Lindsay Brim

Traumatic brain injuries can cause a host of physical, social, cognitive, emotional and behavioral effects on a person. The outcomes of TBI can range from complete recovery to permanent disability or death. There are several causes of TBI and in most cases there are many lobes of the brain that are affected. TBI is a major cause of death and disability worldwide, especially in children and young adults.zavier2

Let me tell you about a sweet, 8-year-old boy who we get the pleasure of spending time with on our farm for Equine Assisted Learning. This young boy had a routine surgery at the age of 6 and in the recovery room was given a medication that caused him to have a stroke. The effects of the stroke then caused a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). His Mom describes him as a previously “chatty” and outgoing child. Since the TBI he suffers from difficulty word finding and recall, expressive aphasia (difficulty speaking what he is thinking), decreased memory, difficulty reading and writing, involuntary movements, decreased lower extremity strength and trunk control and when he gets nervous he begins to laugh excessively and needs re-directed to stop the laughter. He loves to play with the hose so during our sessions we use that as a reward. He responds very well to visual cues and we use a behavior chart during his session. We also write a plan for the session and he gets great enjoyment by crossing activities off the list.

Let me walk you through a session we had last week:

The goals of this session were to work on personal recall,  writing letters he is having difficulty with, colors, word finding and expression. We use our 24-year-old gray quarter horse, Connie for his sessions as he has developed a connection with her.

  • We started with grooming and we worked on body parts. I would ask him to groom Connie’s neck, shoulder, back, hip and then also ask him to point to those places on him. He would get every one correct except the hip; we worked on that a lot. When grooming we also watch which hand he chooses to use the most and his upper extremity strength to determine if he is developing a dominant hand again
  • Next we worked on personal recall. I showed him Connie’s stall as her home and then I asked him to tell me who lives in his home- his response- mom, dad, sister (Correct). I then showed him her food bucket and asked him where he eats dinner. He first said in his room, and then said in the pantry so he got close. We discussed the difference between the kitchen and the living room and his bedroom. I then asked him to tell me about his home and asked where he lives, he could recall city and even his address.
  • We then worked on some letters he is having trouble writing- Z,S,d,b and Y. We wrote these on Connie with chalk, his challenge with these letters is he writes them backwards, when that occurred, we would write the letter, he would trace ours then write it a few times. The last round he got all letter correct! He finds enjoyment writing on the horse as compared to sitting at a table writing on a piece of paper

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    Using chalk to practice letters on Connie

  • Next we played “eye spy” with items around the barn and on Connie to work on colors- (eye spy something red- he would guess Connie’s halter, etc)
  • Last activity was “tell me about Connie”. He had to come up with 6 words to describe her while looking at her. He said, “soft, white, pretty, has a mouth, dirty and nice”.
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Grooming and practicing body parts

  • Finally since he had all smileys on his chart I allowed him to play with the hose by filling up our horse’s water buckets. He also got to feed Connie a carrot out of the feed bucket, which gives him much enjoyment!

Some sessions are much more challenging than others as every day  can be different for a person with a TBI. At Crossroads Corral he is  able to further is learning with the help from a horse named Connie. I  am so grateful to a  wonderful volunteer, Tracy, who is an  Occupational Therapy  Assistant and friend who helps with  his sessions. With her OT  brain and my PT and EAL brain we are  able to be creative and  conduct meaningful activities with the horse  that promote his  learning and growth. He has become very loving to  Ms. Connie giving  her a kiss on the cheek and saying, “I love her”. He  also has grown  quite fond of us, holding our hand as we walk around  the barn. There  is no doubt that he is building a connection, which is something he  has struggled with according to his Mom who is a Physical Therapist and extremely devoted to his care. We are so thankful to his wonderful family who allows him to spend time with Connie and us on the farm!

Post Published by Lindsay Brim

 

 

 

5 Ways Horses Improve the Lives of our Heroes

By: Lindsay Brim

Let me start this blog post by saying that I am neither an active military member nor a Veteran. However, we at Crossroads Corral are passionate about giving back to those who have fought for our country. In May of 2015 we completed a certification seminar, “Coming Home Again: Equine Assisted Applications for Veterans and Their Families”. We have conducted much research on Equine Therapy for Veterans and spoken to many Veterans about their experiences and the subject of Equine Therapy. We have the utmost respect for our active military members and Veterans and that is why they are a group of people we want to reach with our horses.

Veterans and horses have much in common. This is why equine therapy can be so beneficial in assisting Veterans with transitioning “home” post deployment.

1. Herd behavior of horses is similar to the military unit

During basic training, recruits are trained to develop a “unit self esteem” which can be looked at as being part of a herd. The soldiers are no longer a just looking after themselves but for an entire unit (herd). When soldiers are in combat zones, they are on high alert at all times and constantly aware of their surroundings in order to stay alive and keep their unit safe. This behavior is the same for horses; they are constantly on high alert and analyzing their surroundings for threats. In any herd there is a horse in charge that looks out for the rest of the herd. Horses are instinctively hyper aware and very conscious of their surroundings.

why horses - Crossroads Corral pic

2. Horses have no ability to place judgment on a person

When someone leaves home to courageously fight for our country they come back a changed person. Friends and family may have seemingly innocent expectations and many may not understand why the Veteran who just returned home cannot go to the movies, walk the mall or even go to the grocery store. Friends don’t understand why they don’t want to go the nightclub they used to frequent, go see a concert or why they must sit in a restaurant facing the door. Our expectations of our returning Veterans place added stress to their lives. The young man or woman does not want to let their friends or family down but they need time to adjust and transition. Horses have NO expectations. They did not know the person before they left to fight for our country, they are only living in the “now” and looking at the person right in front of them. Horses allow people to “live in the moment” and truly be themselves without being judged. They don’t care what we are wearing, if we have makeup on or if we are at the barn in our PJs.

3. Horses can help humans develop trust

Trust is huge for Veterans and horses. Horses are willing to follow once they have gained respect and trust in a human. We are the same way; we don’t just trust just anyone, especially if we have spent time in a combat zone where we were constantly wondering who we could trust. It is a huge accomplishment if we can earn the trust of a 1200-pound animal and they can teach us how to trust again. An exercise can be as simple as a horse willingly walking beside you on a lead rope; this is the horse telling you, “I will follow you because I trust you will not lead me into danger”. Another example is if you are in the round pen with a loose horse and the horse willingly approaches you, that is trust. Horses are really great at protecting themselves and if they don’t have trust, they will retreat.

4. Horses help us to become more aware of our non-verbal communication

Horses operate on Non-Verbal communication. Military pic and horseMany of us do not realize how our non-verbal communication comes off to the rest of the world. Some Veterans have found that it is hard to build relationships with people post deployment. Horses have the instinctual ability to literally show us or “mirror” how we are presenting to the world. If you are in a bad mood, or acting “standoffish”, the horse is going to behave the same way. The client then begins to wonder, “why is the horse turning away from me when I approach or why does he/she have their ears back, its like they are ignoring me?” They pick up on our energy. I cannot tell you how many times I have personally had bad rides on my horse and looking back it was my fault. I was in a bad mood before I even got into the saddle.

5. Horses can teach us to be “at ease”

Horses are very quick to change from “at attention” to “at ease”. Humans on the other hand, get upset about something and it can take them an hour or even a day, week, or month to get over it and become “at ease”. If the horse in the wild sees something as a threat they react to the threat then quickly go back to grazing. Horses often re-circle when they see something they do not understand right away. I have seen it time and time again. A barking dog on the other side of a fence approaches a horse. The horse runs initially from the threat (reacting quickly), then stops, turns and slowly approaches the dog to get a better look (re-circle) and then goes back to eating grass (at-ease). We can use this as a metaphor for our Veterans. Horses can teach Veterans to acknowledge that a threat existed but then get back to their lives.

If you are a veteran, active military, or from a military family and are living in Central Florida please consider us if you are seeking mental health counseling. We look forward to meeting you and welcoming you to our herd.

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