Last summer I volunteered at a special needs camp in the Atlanta area. I am sure you will be hearing more about the camps since I am planning on doing four over the summer. When I was there I asked to be in a group with an occupational therapist. At the end of the week of camp I asked if I could shadow her sometime. She actually needed volunteers for hippotherapy. Hippotherapy is therapy on horses for patients. For the longest time my dad said I was giving the horses therapy. Patients will groom the horse, steer the horse, and complete activities on the horse such as puzzles and putting beads on a necklace.
I try to go once a week, but often patients will cancel or the weather will not cooperate. I usually end up going a few times a month though. I know most of the kids that receive hippotherapy through her now. She also practices in a local children's hospital as well as some home visits. I like talking to her because I will hear about these other aspects of her career. I like the idea of not always being in the same environment. One of the reason I chose OT is because of the variety.
Therapy on a horse is very interesting. Many of the kids have weak grasps and/or coordination, so many of the toys end up falling on the ground or thrown at me as was the case today. Apparently, I look just like a basketball hoop. Also, many of the children have allergies or asthma so the horse dander and dust really take a toll on them. My job as a volunteer is to anchor the child onto the horse. For most of the children, I just hold their ankles in case they lose control. For the kids with weak trunk support, I actually have to help support them. Since the horses are usually taller then me it is quite the arm workout.
While I am not a huge fan of the horses (they smell and sometimes listen worse than the kids); I really enjoy helping out with hippotherapy. First, I get to be outside (sometimes a downside). I also get to see the pride on these kids faces when they learn to do something new such as guiding the horse or even brushing it. These kids are so excited to see "their" horse. They even bring treats for their horses. I have been volunteering at this location for about 10 months now. Seeing the kids go from a therapeutic saddle and being tired halfway through the session to riding on a full blown children's saddle for the entire is amazing. Even these kids' families are jealous of what the kid can do.
The kids I worked with today had the cutest giggles. They both love to ham it up. There is this one kid who goes to lala land during most of the session. Today though the therapist had him run back and forth to hide the bean-bags for later because the horse was being a pain and did not want to come out of the pasture. He was so much more alert today, and actually spoke to us. It is amazing what a little activity beforehand can do for concentration later.