A Tribute to our Pioneers- Nancy McGibbons, PT, HPCS and Claudia Morin, OT, HPCS

“When the President introduces himself he simply
says, ‘I am the President of the United States.’ ” These words were spoken to me by Claudia Morin during the first AHA, Inc. course she and I taught together after I introduced myself to the class apparently a bit too exuberantly. Claudia and Nancy need no introductions. However, if one were to introduce them, one might use descriptors such as founders, Presidents of AHA, Inc., AHA, Inc. Therapists of the Year, and wise senseis. When I was given the honor of writing this article, I thought to myself: with much gratitude, how can we address all the contributions these ladies have made?

So, once again, I sought wisdom directly from my mentors:

      “What do you feel your most significant accomplishments were for AHA, Inc.?” I asked. Both answered, “Getting it started.” These two founders of AHA, Inc. were a part of the group originally invited to Wilbad, Germany in 1987. The trip was organized by Jean Tebay and was scheduled to attend a 10-day course to learn about classic hippotherapy, meaning “only the movement of the horse,” and to develop curriculum to be disseminated in the United States. Nancy and Claudia each cite this invitation/trip as a pivotal point in their careers. “Early curriculum development involved intense problem solving with a core group of people,” said Claudia. Both Nancy and Claudia recall three- and four-day meetings at a variety of sites in the United States and Canada several times per year, working long days and nights. “It was the brightest, most passionate, hardest working group. It included very different personalities and professional experiences, but everyone was absolutely driven to figure out what exactly was happening
to our patients when they were on the moving horses. What was the scientific rationale? How could we teach others
most effectively? How to get hippotherapy accepted into the medical profession as a whole?” remembered Nancy. Claudia described this time as “intense brain drain.”

Another significant accomplishment both leaders recall is developing the Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist (HPCS) exam. I also remember my first meeting with the AHA, Inc. board, wandering into a room covered with large post-it notes containing content for the HPCS exam. “What an exciting group to be involved with! What an exciting time!” I thought.
Nancy also remembers her research in improvements in muscle symmetry in children with cerebral palsy after hippotherapy with Dr. William Benda as being significant. I remember several therapists brainstorming at a conference, discussing potential research topics. “So what?” I can still hear Nancy saying, “The results of the research must stand up to the “so what?” question.” In other words, do the results we have shown help to improve the way we practice? Certainly her research did just that, and it has become a gold standard for other research articles.
Each of these ladies not only initiated curriculum development for the two main courses offered by AHA,
Inc., but they also later developed specialty courses. Nancy McGibbon contributed to the creation of the Neuro Connection and Claudia helped build the Sensory Connection.
Both therapists took time to reflect on the development of AHA, Inc. and proudly remarked how this organization has become the international leader with much growth since its beginning. They also reflected on challenges.

“What is AHA, Inc. ‘s biggest challenge moving forward?” Nancy mentioned hot topics such as scope of hippotherapy, terminology, and reimbursement. Claudia stated, “Don’t settle for putting in time (in the arena); settle only for outcomes that can be achieved. Hippotherapy is a dynamic setting, not black and white, and the dynamics are changing all the time even with the same horse going in a straight line. We need to be constantly problem solving all the time.”
So in light of these challenges, “What is your advice to the current Board of Directors, faculty, and membership?” Nancy said, “Keep it fun, become involved, be open to new ideas, and always question, learn, and share your knowledge with others.” Claudia added, “Get out in the arena, incorporate more hands-on learning, present more case studies at conferences that incorporate the conceptual framework, identify reasons for improvements of clients based on the conceptual framework, and focus on quality.”

Nancy and Claudia have followed their own advice. They plan to continue to share ideas by consulting and teaching therapy students and therapists, and having fun by riding and traveling with family. If you want to catch up with them, you may visit at their homes in Arizona or Georgia; in 2019 you may see Claudia traveling in Spain or Sicily or Nancy exploring Romania or Hungary.

As they ride into the sunset, I ask one more question:
“What did you enjoy most about AHA, Inc.?” Both Nancy and Claudia remembered friendships made and discussions held, problem solving with passionate therapists who were eager to learn, debate, and think outside the box. These pioneers who have been our leaders, our mentors, and our friends throughout the years, and who now enjoy Faculty Emeritus status, have certainly left their mark in history and will continue to guide us as AHA, Inc. continues to grow.

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