Putting The Treatment First ... Literally

Working in the therapy field has always been my dream; ever since I was exposed to occupational therapy, I knew it was what I wanted to do.  Six years of higher education later I was able to land a job in one of my fieldwork placements in pediatrics - a dream come true! After five years of work as an occupational therapist, I finally felt like I had a handle on this being an OT thing; I knew I was ready to add in something different to continue my professional growth. Sure, I had been keeping up with my CEUs and attending some courses here and there, but I was ready for something that would really push me outside my comfort zone and help me continue to contribute to the field I love so much. Thankfully for therapists, there are so many different types of opportunities to grow. From specialty certifications to higher-level professional development courses and trainings - the possibilities seemed endless.  With so many options, I felt emboldened by the opportunities, but unsure which direction to head next. I decided to attend the American Occupational Therapy Association's national conference. I started exploring and after talking to anyone who would listen about what was out there, I landed on getting my doctorate. This was no easy feat, but one particular course asked me to find a community program and ask them to open their doors to let me evaluate what they were doing. I found myself, for the first time, completely in luck to personally know someone who was the director of a therapy program at a nonprofit organization I contacted Melanie Dominko-Richards at Mane Stream in Oldwick, NJ and set up a day and a time for me to come out and see see what Mane Stream and hippotherapy was all about. In my lifetime, I had such limited exposure to horses (we are talking about riding a pony once as a small child and one trail ride as an adult). After coming in and looking around, I had the opportunity as part of the project to interview key stakeholders. From the administrative and therapy staff, to the board of directors, parents, and volunteers, every single one of them talked about treatment sessions incorporating equine movement with an air of majesty in their voice. It felt like they all knew something special that I didn't quite understand… yet! After observing my first therapy session, I saw the magic for myself and was officially hooked. As soon as I could (even before doctoral school was halfway over) I signed up for the AHA, Inc. Hippotherapy Treatment Principles - Part I course. Seeing horses through a scientific and therapeutic lens was exciting and new. After completing the Part I, I knew I needed more direct experience with horses, so despite my super packed schedule, I signed up for the Mane Stream volunteer training program. My first time grooming and tacking to prepare to sidewalk during a therapy session was terrifying, but thankfully I was surrounded by so much care and support in the barn, those first-day jitters soon faded away. As my confidence and experience grew, I felt ready to sign up for the AHA, Inc. Treatment Principles - Part II. Completion of this course gave me the chance to learn even more, and I proceeded to take the AHA, Inc., Sensory Connection course. As an OT, this was an amazing opportunity to take what I was already doing in the clinic and understand how to not just replicate it, but enhance it using equine movement. Three courses down I was still volunteering, finishing my doctorate and working, but the time spent at the barn always kept me going. I looked forward to the drive down, the open space, the sunshine. I needed it as almost my own therapy. When doctoral school was a thing of the past (finally!), the opportunity arose to get on the proverbial "horse" and start treating! I jumped at the chance immediately) and cleared my Saturday mornings. The first day I was a bundle of nerves but thankfully I had the skilled Mane Stream volunteers and an amazing COTA who held my hand and got me ready to take the lead on her caseload. That was in January 2020 and every week since then, I have found myself becoming more and more confident in my abilities to use the horse in my sessions. I have also become more comfortable interacting with the volunteers and horses as partners in helping me deliver the best possible treatment during my occupational therapy sessions. 

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