Apr 10, 2013

Hippotherapy at Little Bit

I've been intending to write a post about Ainsley's "new" therapy at Little Bit. Ainsley started therapy through a local birth to three center when she was just 4 months old. At that time we had in home services, meaning the therapist(s) came to our home to work with Ainsley. Because of that connection we heard early on about a special kind of therapy called Hippotherapy (horse riding therapy). It is supposed to be very beneficial for improving balance but with all the surgeries Ainsley had (including two in which she was placed in a spica cast followed by a hip brace for long periods and obviously you can't ride a horse in that condition.), plus we had so many other areas of concern, that it just wasn't a priority.

Little Bit is located in Redmond so when we moved there in 2011 it took the commuting out of the equation and we went through the process to get added to the wait list (lots of paperwork). On Ainsley's birthday 2012 we got the call saying there was an opening for us. Steve was between jobs but we just couldn't pass up the much coveted spot. The sessions are not covered by insurance so it is a lot of money to pay out of pocket each month. But how can you put a price on walking? So we agreed to try it, using funds from our savings, and stop if we felt it wasn't helping. (Thankfully he got a new job shortly afterward.)

The condition that Ainsley has, cerebellar hypoplasia, makes all motor skills more challenging for her. If a person was to observe her they would notice that she moves slower. The reality is that the portion of her brain that controls bodily movement is undersized. I don't think I've ever posted a photo but thought it's time I did. The brain scan below was done in December 2010 when she was 4.  Ainsley is affected similarly to people with Cerebral Palsy which is really a very broad and general category of conditions. (Cerebral refers to the cerebrum, which is the affected area of the brain (although the disorder may involve connections between the cortex and other parts of the brain such as the cerebellum), and palsy refers to disorder of movement.) Most commonly people think of  people they've seen with Spastic Cerebral Palsy. The thing is that CP cannot always be detected with brain scans and may be diagnosed by symptoms alone. As you can clearly see from the image below there is no difficulty seeing the large black area that should be mostly filled by Ainsley's cerebellum. So Ainsley's condition of Cerebellar Hypoplasia is more specific than a diagnosis of CP in which sometimes little is known about the underlying cause.

Having Cerebellar Hypoplasia is why it is difficult for Ainsley to do so many of the things that we take for granted.  She is smart, clever, cute and amazes us, but progress is still slowwww. It takes her longer to learn things. Once she's made the neural connections and mastered a skill it sticks with her and she can build upon it. Sometimes becoming quite quick at the movement. Only time will tell us what she is capable of.
 She's been riding for 5 months and in that time she has grown to really enjoy her rides, she's gained a lot of trunk stability while riding, and she is now stable enough that she can do activities like reach out for a ring, transfer it to the other hand and place it on a stick with the other hand all while riding. My goal is that Ainsley improve her sense of balance and timing so that she can stand independently and walk. No small goal.
This week Little Bit moved to to a new location a few miles away called Dunmire Stables. The facility is larger and will allow them to service more children. 

Here is Ainsley at the mounting platform about to get on her horse.

They ride on a thin pad rather than a saddle. Feeling the horse's movement during riding is a big part of the therapy. Their gait is similar to humans so it gives a sense of the pattern and movements of walking.

Here she is grabbing the ring with her left hand.

Transferring it the other while riding.

And then placing the ring over the stick while riding.

We'd had a 2 week break, so it was nice to see how happy she was to be back.
A closer shot of her and her Norweigan Fjord horse, Wikki. Looking cute wearing cousin Emily's horse vest (lucky we tried it and amazed it fits at size 14).

They have a swing in the new therapy room and it is a great addition to the 15 minute physical therapy portion of the session which happens after the riding.
I shot a couple of videos so you can see. 

It's times like these that I wish finances weren't an issue. She is making progress, it's just slow, so I'm just not sure if it's $460 a month worth of progress or if we will even reach our goals in the end, or if we do if it will have been because of this therapy.  I'd been having these thoughts and our therapist said to me this week he wasn't sure when Ainsley first showed up (her case looks pretty grim on paper) but that now he knows she "was meant to be here." There are moms at the stables who's "children" are in their 30's and they've been coming for 25 years because they believe it's that beneficial. I'm reserving my opinion for a bit. Now that my Steve is home we are stepping up our home therapy regimes a notch. With a kid like Ainsley the real work has to happen at home. An hour (or 4) in therapy each week just isn't going to get you where you want to go.

Progress or not. Walking or not. Eating or not. Speaking or not. I'm just thankful that she is so happy.  She puts a smile on my face many times every single day. Even the tough days.  I love her more than words could possibly describe.


  1. awesome that's so mutch fun even I enjoy going on swings

  2. Great post Susan. I hope you are all doing well.

  3. Wow. I used to follow all the time on YouTube but got busy with autism. Ainsley has grown so much and has accomplished so much. She looks great! Xoxo