Maureen takes Wiley’s face in her hands, as she leans-in for a nuzzle. For a moment, she isn’t thinking about standing up straighter or walking without assistance, she is just connecting with the beautiful creature, a brown horse that always makes her smile after a ride.
“This is something that she can do that she enjoys,” says Maureen’s mom, Tammy Reyes of Cromwell, describing the last two years. “Out of the blue one day, she just had this rupture in her brain and it changed everything.”
Now 11, Maureen is making strides through equine-assisted therapy at Manes & Motions in Middletown, the only therapeutic horseback riding center in the nation connected with a hospital.
“When I saw what horses can do for people with special needs, I got involved,” says Janice Anderson, facility coordinator at the center at Daniels Farm, which is affiliated with the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain. Volunteers and employees help people dealing with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, autism and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Being able to control a large animal is something that not everybody gets to do, so, there’s a big self-esteem boost that goes along with riding and being able to steer,” says Anderson, explaining the cognitive and physical benefits for riders like Maureen, who was left with a brain injury. “When she sits on the horse, the horse moves her pelvis in a very similar fashion to the way it would be moved if she was walking. So we’re hoping to improve her walking gait a little bit by riding.”
It’s an exciting time for Manes & Motions. This fall, construction of a new indoor arena will begin on the property, allowing the center to offer therapy sessions in challenging weather. Staff is also preparing for a major fundraiser, the 14th Annual Celebrity Waiter Dinner & Auction, taking place Sept. 26 at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville.
“It really helps keep our program going all year round,” says Anderson, noting the importance of consistency in following directions, sitting up straight, steering with authority and using a strong, clear voice.
Maureen is making great progress. “Her strength has definitely improved, her endurance,” says Reyes.
The sixth grader was born with an arteriovenous malformation, a mass of arteries and veins, in the middle of her brain. Unaware if it until the bleeding began, her mom has struggled to make sense of her daughter’s ordeal.
“Very shocked and overwhelmed,” says Reyes. “It was very surreal.” But of all her therapies, Maureen loves her time with Wiley and is motivated to work hard.
“For her, trotting is a reward,” smiles Anderson. “She loves to go faster.”
Riding also gives Maureen confidence, focus and hope. “She has such a good spirit. She’s very determined that she will walk again,” says Reyes. “She is my miracle.”
>>For more information about Manes & Motions, log onto http://www.hfsc.org/manes-motions