An interview with AHA, Inc.'s newest board members

Jessica Perkins, MS, OTR/L, HPCS

How long have you been involved with AHA, Inc?

I have been a member of AHA, Inc. since 2015, but was first exposed to hippotherapy in 2006 when I began volunteering with an OT and PT who incorporated equine movement into their practice. Working alongside them and learning about their respective professions guided my decision to become an occupational therapist and go on to attain my hippotherapy clinical specialist board certification. 

What has been the biggest surprise to you as a new board member?

As I become more familiar with the Board of Directors and the various committees that serve the AHA, Inc., I am in awe of the amount of dedication, passion, time, and effort that all of the Board and committee members contribute as they strive to advance the educational and professional standards of the organization and the industry. I am honored to serve alongside them.   

What is your favorite part of using hippotherapy as a treatment tool?

I love the precision that can be achieved through the use of equine movement that cannot be replicated in any other setting. I can make subtle changes to the horse’s movement that result in a profound impact for the client. I have seen clients who were making minimal progress in the clinic flourish when equine movement was introduced to their plan of care due to the multi-system input.

How has the way you use hippotherapy changed since you started your practice?

My practice is constantly evolving as I gain experience treating clients, working alongside mentors, and taking advantage of educational opportunities offered through AHA, Inc.  Attending the Treatment Principles Part 1 (formerly Level 1) course was enlightening for me. I had been volunteering with experienced clinicians using hippotherapy for nearly 10 years, however it was not until I attended the course that I fully understood the principles of hippotherapy and the complexities of this treatment strategy. One revelation that I had was that it is not necessary to include many elaborate activities for my clients to complete while on the horse. While there is a time and place for the incorporation of additional challenges, the manipulation of the movement itself is far more powerful than any contrived activity I can overlay. 

What are some things you hope to achieve during your time on the Board of Directors?

I am passionate about the use of correct terminology, professional presentation of services, and maintaining a therapy-first focus. I intend to be a strong ambassador of AHA, Inc. by supporting the efforts of the organization to educate therapists, consumers, physicians, insurance companies, and the public with the goal that one day we will see cohesive language and high quality services being provided that align with best practice standards.

Mary Helene Chaplin, PT, HPCS

How long have you been involved with AHA, Inc?

I have been a member of AHA since it was a section of NARHA and began as an apprentice faculty just as AHA, Inc. was starting as an independent organization. I have been an AHA, Inc. coordinating faculty member since 2006.

What has been the biggest surprise to you as a new board member?

Seeing the bigger picture of how much work is being done in so many directions by so many dedicated volunteers as well as how much the AHA, Inc office staff (of 2!) handle in a day, week, month. The organization is growing and the energy and dedication of the members, the executive board and the staff is infectious.

What is your favorite part of using hippotherapy as a treatment tool? 

I think my favorite part is seeing changes and improvements happening quicker as a result of manipulating the movement of the horse and reaching outcomes faster than I can without including hippotherapy in my plan of care. Seeing functional changes occur within 1 treatment when including hippotherapy is common but always fun and exciting to see whether it’s the 1st time or the 1,000th time!

How has the way you use hippotherapy changed since you started your practice?

When I initially started incorporating hippotherapy into physical therapy treatments, I was primarily treating children with a few adults and then my caseload and population changed to mostly adults and primarily consulting with pediatric patients. So with that change in patient population, I began to use less “stuff”, less alternative positions and really started using just the movement of the horse and manipulating it to achieve the outcomes I was seeking. It is simplified but also powerful and really brings to light how effective the treatment strategy is in its purest form.

What are some things you hope to achieve during your time on the Board of Directors?

The organization is working diligently on the strategic plan and I am proud to be part of the group working on the goals established for strengthening and expanding AHA, Inc. I hope to be part of continuing to expand AHA, Inc’s presence as an educational leader nationally and internationally. We as an organization are growing and it is exciting to be part of the growth.

Melanie Dominko-Richards, MS, CCC-SLP, HPCS

How long have you been involved with AHA, Inc?

I have been involved with the AHA, Inc. since 2013. I was very fortunate to work closely with Gina Taylor, MS, OT, HPCS over the years (since I was 12!) and learned a lot about the industry, hippotherapy, and the AHA, Inc. from her. After graduating from graduate school in 2013, I took what was then the Level I Treatment Principles in August and then the Level II Treatment Principles the following year. Before I was appointed to the Board of Directors, I was on the Marketing and Social Media committee and was appointed the Chair of that committee. 

What has been the biggest surprise to you as a new board member?

I think that the biggest surprise to being a board member is how much the organization values the diversity of their board members and how our opinions and expertise allows the AHA, Inc. to form a stronger organization and move forward as an industry

What is your favorite part of using hippotherapy as a treatment tool?

My favorite part of using equine movement as a treatment tool is the engagement that I get with my clients. I enjoy that my sessions get to take place in a variety of environments (inside, outside, on the trails) and that there is never a lack of things that we can talk about. I enjoy the whole body effect of hippotherapy and that my clients get to experience such unique movement that can be coupled with a conversation with their volunteers or playing a game of “I Spy.” 

How has the way you use hippotherapy changed since you started your practice?

I have seen many changes in the use of hippotherapy over the years. When I was a volunteer in the industry prior to going to college, the use of equine movement was still very much tied with riding. We used terms like rider, used equipment like reins and saddles, and there was minimal carryover into the clinic space. The differentiation between “therapeutic riding” and “therapy” was minimal. I am proud to be a part of an organization that is working diligently to help consumers differentiate between the services that are being provided and also increases the validity of our licenses and the continuing education that we have pursued in order to incorporate hippotherapy into our treatments. 

What are some things you hope to achieve during your time on the Board of Directors?

I look forward to working with the rest of the board on the AHA, Inc.’s strategic plan. WIth each of us working on different pieces, I hope to bring awareness of our organization to the “horse world” so that those who enjoy horses as much as we do understand the differences of adaptive riding and therapy services that incorporate the use of equine movement as treatment tool. I feel that the more knowledge that we can share with the rest of the equine industry will help improve appropriate terminology use and understanding of what we do. 

 

 




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