Hippotherapy volunteer grows as much as patients during therapy process

Studies prove animals help with pediatric rehabilitation. High school student Julianna Merry dedicates one day each week assisting special-needs kids with physical, occupational or speech and language therapy treatment.

Hippotherapy is treatment with the help of a horse. A rehabilitation center in Carmel, Indiana  called Children’s TherAplay, a non-profit outpatient pediatric clinic, uses hippotherapy to help their patients. Merry volunteers as a side walker, and her job is to walk beside the horse to assist the child receiving therapy.

“I’m a side walker,” Merry said. “I walk along the side of the horse while the therapist is giving instructions. I make sure the kids don’t fall off and are comfortable.”

TherAplay provides physical and occupational therapy for special-needs children from ages 18 months to 13 years old. The movement of the horse aids with the therapy. TherAplay helps kids with different special-needs such as autism,

cerebral palsy, down syndrome, developmental delays, social or communication delays, brain or spinal cord injuries and genetic disorders.

“I love seeing the kids grow and being around the horses,” Merry said. “There are two separate areas for physical therapy and occupational therapy.”

A half hour consists of the child receiving therapy in a child-focused clinic, while the other half is spent on the horse. Each session is one-on-one and tailored to the specific needs of the patient.

“I love seeing the different ways the groups benefit from being around the horses,” Merry said.

Merry’s decision to help at the clinic was easy since she used to compete in horse competitions.

“I have a passion for horses,” Merry said. “I wanted to combine the knowledge of horses with helping special needs kids. When I was riding horses I used to help teach the younger kids and wanted to combine that with volunteering.”

Merry’s work at TherAplay makes a huge impact on the kids lives, but even more so on her life. “I’ve learned about the different types of special needs and how not everything needs to be treated with medicine,” Merry said. “I also learned that just because they have special needs doesn’t mean they can’t go on to do great things. It’s amazing watching helping them reach their full potential.”