Enjoy the day-to-day adventures of an Occupational Therapist in training!

Posts tagged ‘horseback riding’

T minus 6 sessions

I think it dawned on me last night that this is my last month at DR as an intern. I overheard some other volunteers talking about the April schedule and realized that I am only going to be here for 6  more sessions- where did time go?! The end of the semester is rapidly approaching, which means a crap ton of presentations, projects, papers and exams. I’m counting on the stress relief that I receive from being at the barn now more than ever! I have to present about my experience this semester at DR; and when I sit down to plan what I am going to say, I’m at a loss for words. How do I explain the transformation that I have experienced to others when to me it almost seems supernatural (or divine- you pick). How do I explain, without sounding like a simpleton, why I do a victory dance when Lou lets me pick all 4 of his feet? For me, things like this that sound insignificant represent huge milestones in my time at DR. I feel like I’ve learned as much from working with the horses as I have working with the riders.

Horses have the same effect on me as they do on the riders…the horses boost the rider’s confidence. The horses have certainly boosted my confidence and helped me be more assertive with my body language. Is it right to compare skills that I’ve learned while working with horses to skills that I will use in my career working with people? For example- this is really silly, but here it goes: Before my internship at DR, I had an opening deficiency- meaning that snaps,hooks, jar lids, clips, or anything that acts as a fastener rendered me catatonic. Well, let me tell you, everything at the barn has hooks, clasps, or buckles that have to be opened and closed. I swear, I spend more time opening and closing things every day than anything else; everything from saddle buckles, helmet buckles, halter straps, and gate locks. Now, OT’s have to be adept at fastening and unfastening snaps,buckles, etc because we (OT’s) work with braces and other objects that need to be secure. I am 100% cured of my deficiency after the first week at DR.  Although this is a perfectly transferable skill from the farm to the OT realm, will my revelation of the usefulness of this skill be accepted as growth in the academic world when I present about my internship? Oh the things you can think when you have to present what you’ve experienced!

So last night, we played musical stalls on horseback-which is a lot like musical chairs, only much bigger.  That was really fun for me as a side walker- but I had to remember not to be so competitive. This activity helped with steering for the riders and it also helped them think ahead and plan for what was coming up next. I was working with Majestic Diamond (the rider) last night, and she put me in the rail (the fence that surrounds the ring) at least 4 times. We had to work hard on steering and sitting tall and strong. Molly, the horse she was riding, HATES wiggly riders… so I try to remind the rider to sit still. It was a pretty uneventful lesson, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I just had to stay sharp so I did’t find myself squished between the rail and big ole Molly!

Lou has gone from a pain in my side to my sweet boy over the course of this semester. He has helped me re-learn how to take care of a horse. Yesterday, I had some extra chores to do, so I was unable to take care of him at the regular time. He made a huge fuss whenever I would pass his paddock- it was almost like he was reminding me of my responsibilities to him! He’s a hot, silly, mess!   It really breaks my heart to know that when I come back in the fall that he will be gone 😦 However, I am going to enjoy the time I have left with him!

Hours at the barn:

4:30-7pm

Meltdowns and Manicures

If horses had rear-view mirrors, then after Monday night  at Dream Riders I’d be looking at my comfort zone through it. It amazes me that every time I try to form a comfort zone, it quickly gets demolished, which I guess is a good thing and a great way to beef up my coping skills! It’s so hard to have a comfort zone when everything changes and I have to work with new horses and riders.  I found out that we were short on volunteers Monday night so everyone was pulling double duty just to keep everything running semi- smoothly. I also found out that I would be working with not 1 but 2 historically “challenging” riders…. and on top of that, I would be working alongside my boss… no stress!

My first rider of the evening is a little guy named Mark. Mark has severe Autism and is easily over stimulated. He HATES wearing his riding helmet, and if the horse stops for too long, he starts to cry and wiggle around. Last week, he had a complete meltdown and his side walkers had to end his lesson early. Knowing all of this, I was a little apprehensive to work with him- I mean  the only meltdown that I’ve ever handled was my own, and that is different! The fact that I would be working with both of my bosses (at different points during the lesson) offered little comfort; it might have made me more nervous. It’s difficult to remember the little rules/protocols when you’re the lead dog because you don’t usually have to worry about them all the time like the rest of us do. That’s fine, and I totally understand that when you’re in charge you can do things that usually aren’t done-like talking to the leader while side-walking. I felt pretty much by myself during part of the lesson because the conversation didn’t involve me, and there was little discussion about what was going on.  Please don’t hear this as me speaking negatively about my superiors- I just found the dynamic of the “Leader” in the volunteer position very interesting (among other things.) I became hesitant and began to second guess myself while working with Miss Jennifer and Miss Corky because they have so much more experience than me. I’m not usually like that because I love what I do and I usually take more of an interest in the rider than I did the other night. Thankfully, there were no meltdowns with Mark Monday night! We had a fairly smooth ride and he seemed to enjoy being back in the saddle (literally.) It was difficult to work with him at times because he has a toy horse  that he carries with him all the time and he kept playing with that rather than participate in the activities. He also has almost no verbal skills, which also presents its own challenges. Although I understand that these quirks are all qualities of Autism, it still doesn’t change the fact that I’, not 100% sure of how to best work with a person who has a more severe form of Autism than what I am used to. I really can’t wait to learn strategies for working effectively with patients who have  Autism. I think, in part, it comes with practice!

Since we were so short staffed, I had to work the last lesson, which is a rare occurrence for me! I was working with a teenage rider named Raven who has an anxiety disorder and some sensory “issues” which makes it difficult for her to execute proper riding techniques at times. She loves to talk, and sometimes she fixates on certain topics of conversation. For instance, Monday night, I was told at least 15 times that she had her nails done last week and that she would be getting them done again soon. We could have been talking about worse subjects- but it was very interesting to hear the different ways she made the same story connect to whatever we were talking about at the time. Obviously it was very exciting for her to have been pampered- who can blame her for that?! After all, disability aside, she is still a 17 year old girl. It took me an embarrassingly long time to come to this conclusion- maybe by the fourth time she told me about it. Maybe that simple act made her feel “normal”… don’t most 17 year old girls enjoy having their nails sparkle? I know I did, and still do! She was fixating on it because it meant something to her, not because she couldn’t think of anything else to say!  I guess that means that I am at least a little guilty of thinking about a rider in terms of his or her condition… not per-say in what they cannot do, but as a means of explaining why they do the things that they do.  I forget that people who have disabilities can do things or react to things simply because they are human: that’s all the explanation needed.  I hope that confessing this doesn’t make me a bad person- I would never “dis” a rider’s abilities, but I use the disability as a means to explain the situation around me. I am really thankful to Raven for repeating her story until I came to this realization!

It breaks my heart to think that in 3 weeks I will be leaving DR for the summer! I’ve grown used to the routine, even though it forces me to adapt to new things, I still love every minute of what I do… and I think that is the general idea about one’s vocation; even in the midst of challenges and or struggles, at the end of the day you love what you do.. and you willingly sign up to do it again!

Hours at barn:

1:30-7pm

These boots were made for leading

Yesterday was a special kind of Saturday- I actually got to go to the barn! We had to give 2 make up lessons. You see, the riders families pay for the lesson season in advance, almost how you would pay college tuition. So it is important that the riders are getting as many lessons as their parents paid for. The weather in South Carolina has been super strange so far in 2014, and we can have lessons if the weather is bad! That’s why we’ve had to do more Saturday lessons than normal this “season.”  You won’t hear me complaining- it was a B-E-A-utiful day at Dream Riders!!

I was a little surprised to see my name listed as a leader twice on the all knowing clipboard that holds our assignments. I was even more surprised to learn that I would be leading a horse named AJ, who can be a little cranky when it’s time to got to work.  I’ve lead AJ once before, and that didn’t go as well as I had imagined… but, one of the characteristics of being an intern is doing what you’re told without asking why. So that’s what I did! Let me tell you a little bit about Mr. AJ  so you know what I was dealing with. AJ is a 20 year old Halfilinger gelding.  We’re the same age.. which is kinda neat! AJ has been a therapy horse for a realllly long time and is  ready for retirement (mentally, at least.) That being said, it’s understandable that he gets crabby about working. He doesn’t do anything to endanger the riders when he gets like this, but he’ll occasionally just stop walking- and the leader has to coax/drag him  in order for him to “walk on!” I was nervous to lead again- it can be stressful enough to lead a horse that doesn’t stop all the time, and it’s really nerve wracking to know that the horse that you’re leading has been acting the fool recently!

I actually did a much better jo b at leading yesterday, which made me proud of myself! Coincidentally, we did a barrel pattern yesterday that we  did the last time I lead, so I had an advantage of knowing where I was supposed to be leading AJ. It’s amazing what one can accomplish when one isn’t given a choice! I didn’t want to be intimidated or afraid to lead just because my last experience didn’t go as I planned. I’m glad that I stepped up and just did it! Leading a horse in the therapy setting requires the leader to pay attention to everything: the horse, the rider, the side walkers, the positions of the other horses and riders, and the instructor… all while keeping the horse in check (or in my case-in motion!) It’s like multitasking time 1,274!! The ability to multitask is an important skill to have as an OT because you always have to be aware of the patient and your surroundings. Right now, it stresses me out a little because I’m still new, and I guess I feel like that makes me more prone to mistakes. I have no doubt that I will become more comfortable with leading as I have more and more opportunities to practice it,though.

I was thankful that the DR staff had faith in me to lead AJ not once but twice yesterday. I was much more confident while leading in the last lesson. I think AJ and I established a good leader/horse relationship. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with his shenanigans, and he could tell- so he didn’t stop as often!  Miss Jennifer, the head riding instructor, said that she wanted me to lead yesterday because I am about a foot taller than the woman who usually leads AJ. Therefore, I have a more dominating presence because I am taller. I overheard Miss Jennifer tell someone that AJ was walking so much nicer for me… which was great to hear! I’m glad that I am able to work in any position that is available during lessons. That makes me feel that I can be of greater use to the DR staff.

There’s a quote that I like that says “everything seems impossible until it’s done.” I definitely feel that this quote is applicable to my DR experience so far. I remember sitting in the barn during the training  session almost 2 months ago thinking “what am I getting myself into.” But now, I just show up at the barn and do my thing with little to no help from anyone else. I’m sure that leading will have the same result… as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m not very patient with myself. I expect perfection on the first try, which doesn’t happen that often! This internship has really helped me become more patient and forgiving with myself since I am virtually new to the whole therapeutic riding process!

Just FYI for you loyal readers, this coming week is the DR Spring Break. I think I’m only going to the barn for 1 day instead of 2. I’ll try to post pics this week since I’ll have some time off on Monday and Thursday nights 🙂

Great Responsibility?

Confession: I am a thinker. Scratch that… I am an over thinker. I’ve spent the last few days reflecting (cough over thinking cough) about what happened on Monday night at DR. In Monday night’s post, I just relived the experience without much thought to what it meant for me to have had that experience. So sit back and enjoy the product of an overactive mind :). 

This is going to sound silly, but when James fell of the horse (let’s just call it “the incident”), the level of responsibility that I have really hit me. You never really think that those “here’s what you do if…” situations that you learn about in training will ever happen to you.  “The incident” made me realize that I will have to be prepared for anything and everything while on the job as an OT, and even now as a DR volunteer. I know that situations such as “the incident” are rare, but they do happen. I sincerely hope that there are courses in grad school about crisis management-sign me up for all of those please! Both people and horses can be unpredictable. Then you add  disabilities on top of that and you come out with a situation where, in reality, anything can happen. A rider with Autism could go into sensory overload and have a melt down. Conceptually, I realize this. It’s hard to imagine it actually happening to me… and it’s weird to think that it did happen, scary to think that it could happen again. 

I felt guilty after it happened; could I have done more and/or should I have done more? If so, then what could I have done? What else was there for me to do but jump out of the way, stricken with dead-fish syndrome. I guess it’s human nature to assume you’d be a hero in a crisis situation- or at least do something. After all, I was the oldest person in that team..even though the other 2 young ladies have been working with DR for a long time and they’ve had more experience with patients, I still felt like as the oldest, I should have been able to do more. Can you say first born mentality?! Was it my fault? Was I holding onto little James’ ankle as tightly as I normally do? I guess the answer here is that there is no answer. Crap happens. Luckily, the girl whose side he fell on was ready to catch him, and no one was hurt. 

Another scary thought is that James can’t talk… he wasn’t able to communicate that something wasn’t right, or that he was losing his balance. He simply just slid off the horse. I’d venture a guess that a good number of OT patients do not possess the ability to verbalize when something doesn’t feel right, or that they feel a seizure coming (for example). Even if they can, will they tell you in time for you to do something about it. I know the career field that I have chosen isn’t going to be glamorous most days, and I’m sure that there are times when I’l be scared and unsure. I’m glad, but not glad, that this happened to me and not someone else. Of course, I would never want any rider to fall off a horse, that would be cruel! But I am glad that this served as a reminder that some scary stuff is going to happen. 

I’d be a liar if I said that I wasn’t nervous to go back to the  barn tomorrow. I’m hoping that I’ve learned to be more calm during “crisis” situations like this one. I don’t want to forget this experience, but I don’t want it to hinder my work. In other words, I don’t want to shy away from doing my job because I’m fearful that this sort of thing might happen again! 

He puts the “Hyper” in Hypertonic

Tonight was a lot of fun! I worked with Max, who I’ve worked with once before. Max is 8 and has hypertonic cerebral palsy (CP).  To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure what condition brought him to DR; he looks and acts just like any other 8 year old boy.   I didn’t realize that there were different types of CP until I read Max’s file. According to http://www.childbirthinjuries.com , hypertonic CP is classified by rigid muscle tone and spastic movements. The CDC has determined that is the most common form of CP- about 80% of all CP diagnoses fall under the hypertonic category.  Max also has a condition known as Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) which makes it difficult for him to say certain words, syllables and/or sounds. This speech difficulty doesn’t stem from facial paralysis. It is caused by poor “planning” by the brain to send the proper signals to the correct body parts involved in speech (lips, tongue, etc.) Max is well aware of what he wants to say, he just slurs his words a bit. Neither condition seems to slow him down at all, especially not tonight! He was extremely hyper.  In no way am I poking fun at his disability in the title of tonight’s blog entry… just so we’re clear! He was talking all about his upcoming trip to Lego Fest, and asking me all kinds of questions just like any other 8 year old boy. He finds it fascinating that I share a name with the main character in one of his favorite books Sammy the Wonder Dachshund. I tried hard not to laugh when he asked if he could call me Sammy the Wonder Dachshund, of  course I said he could… it’s such an awesome nickname! He wasn’t so keen on me calling him Max the Wonder Cowboy, but it’s whatever! He kept me laughing and laughing throughout the lesson! I think my favorite comment that he made tonight was: Which husband do you want to marry? That was met with a laugh and a “That’s a GREAT question, Max.”  The answer to that question is  a blog post for a different day! 🙂

Working with Max tonight reminded me, in a different way, of why I love working with children. Anybody that knows me even a little bit can tell that I am goofy! I love to laugh, and to make others laugh! Kids are like little sponges; they absorb what we, as adults, put out there. I was energetic and silly, and he responded in the same way. That being said, I need to be careful about how I present myself in front of the riders. If I acted as tired as I felt tonight (it’s midterms week!!!) then he would have picked up on that and probably not been excited about learning how to pole bend, or even about being on a horse. Working with kids is a lot like performing on stage. You’ve got to be loud, exaggerate your movements, and keep moving forward-no matter what happens, the show must go on! I really can’t even describe how excited I am to make a career out of what I am doing now!! It makes me so happy to know that I can be a positive force in a child’s life. Gah! I’m getting goose bumps!

I’m leaving for spring break on Sunday, which means that I won’t be at the barn at all next week! I think the staff and the other volunteers are going to miss me.. and if not, they faked it really well! I feel like a part of the DR family, and everyone there takes time to thank me for being there and being willing to help do whatever. I don’t think they realize the impact that the farm has had on my life, and it has only been a month! Also, for you faithful readers, and followers, thank YOU so much for reading my posts each week! I have to do this to get credit for my internship, but it means a lot to me that I can share my experience with y’all. I have to write, but you don’t have to read it… so thanks.. really 🙂

Hours at the Barn:

Monday 2-24-14- 1:45pm-7:00pm

Thursday 2-27-14- 4:45-7:00pm

Please tell me that was dirt: A tale about optimism

Everybody and their sister has heard the classic optimism vs pessimism example of the glass being half full or half empty. Last night, while cleaning Lou’s feet, I came up with a “horse themed” optimism vs. pessimism anecdote that goes like this: Was that dirt or poop? Let me tell y’all the traumatic incident that led to my revelation. So like I said, I was picking Lou’s feet and this idiot (me) left her mouth open while crud was flying around my face from Lou’s feet… I’m sure you can guess what happened next- a nice chunk of dirt, horse poop, or both flew into my mouth. I would love to say that I handled the situation with grace, but grace isn’t very funny now is it? Now that the back story has been established, allow me to elaborate on my anecdote! Having either dirt or horse poo in your mouth is disgusting- but which would be worse to accidentally ingest?  My vote is poop, but to each his own! Even though dirt tastes awful, it could have been so much worse!  So when you’re face with a situation where both outcomes are crappy, try to stay optimistic and pick the lesser of two nasty’s to focus on!

Another life lesson  that can be  gathered from this experience, other than the obvious “don’t pick a horse’s feet with your mouth open”, is to never get too comfortable. I have picked Lou’s feet every Monday and Thursday for the last month, and just as I was getting used to doing it, this happened! Last night at DR I was feeling really confident and comfortable when I got there-finally, all of the “chores” on the board looked familiar to me and I was able to do them all without needing clarification. When the riders got there, I found out that I was not going to be side walking with Zach, but rather a rider who usually comes on Thursday and was making up a lesson yesterday. Just when I thought I was good to go, I got thrown for a loop! I had to adapt myself to the new rider, James, a 4 year old boy with Down Syndrome. James has no verbal skills and is working on his fine motor skills, like lifting a plastic diving ring off a hook and placing it onto another pole. This is the opposite of what I’m used to on Mondays. Zach needs help with his vocal skills and very little help with his motor skills. I’m not going to lie, I would glance over and check on Zach every now and them, just to make sure that he was doing okay! Changing riders was helpful because I am still learning how to adapt to different patients. James is the first child with Down Syndrome that I have ever worked with, and I had to be more energetic than usual in order to keep his attention!  I have to be able to call on different skills at different times and be able to think on my feet when I have never worked with someone who has a particular disorder before!

Last night I got some really great feedback from Miss Corky, the assistant riding instructor,  told me that I was a really easy going volunteer and that she liked working with me! That comment made me feel great because I work hard to represent myself and Columbia College well. I also love the work that I do for them, so it was nice to see that she thinks that I’m doing a good job! I’m not gonna let this get to my head… who knows what could happen Thursday, but I can promise you that I’m not going to open my mouth while I’m taking care of Lou-just in case!

 

 

How many interns does it take to change a light bulb?

If you answered “Just one” then you’re absolutely right… just because I’m the only intern at Dream Riders! Today. we had so many volunteers, which is a GREAT problem to have! I suppose that today was a “slow” day for me.  Instead of doing my normal job of side walking, I worked on other tasks like changing a light bulb!

Funny story: the assistant riding instructor, Ms. Corky, calls me Katie… all the time… and for those of you who don’t know, my name is Sami-not Katie. So this evening, Ms. Corky calls me over and says, “Hey Katie, how tall are you?” So I answered 5’10 and then she proceeded to tell me that I’m definitely tall enough to change a light bulb. Kind of an odd way to ask someone for help, but then again, Ms. Corky isn’t the most conventional person I’ve ever met! So I changed a light bulb (while the circuit was still active mind, you… I had to be able to see what I was doing-apparently) Yolo.

I really am loving the “barn mentality.” Essentially, if you can help, you’re going to. It doesn’t really matter what the task is, and it (in my case) is usually something that you’ve never really done before. This calls for one to be independent and a great problem solver! Usually, by the time you can formulate a question, the person telling you what to do is already on to something else so you’ve got to figure it out the best way you can! This isn’t to say that the DR staff (of 2 people) aren’t willing to help, they are just really busy ladies! I feel like barn life is simplistic, in a good way, of course. It’s easy to over think things, but usually, common sense wins out on how one approaches situations at the barn! Using your noggin is a great skill to have out there in the real world, however rare it might be 😉

I also got to play nurse to a 1000 pound patient again tonight. It’s become my routine every Monday and Thursday to look after Lou, the injured therapy horse. He and I have been together since my first day at DR, and I have to say that he’s been wonderfully patient with me while I struggle to pry information about how to properly put on a halter from deep within my brain. He and I have wonderful chats, I do most of the talking, while I brush him down and make him look sparkly clean. Don’t trust a person who doesn’t talk to his/her horse. I’m taking a course about patient provider interactions and while I am soaking his swollen tendon with icy cold water and rubbing ointment on the affected area, I talk to him like I would talk to a patient receiving OT from me. It’s good practice for me, and I don’t think he seems to mind either. That might sound strange… actually, that does sound strange…but think about it, I’m sure I’ll have patients who cannot verbally respond to me, so I’ll have to read their body language and other nonverbal cues that they give me. Obviously Lou can’t talk, he’s pretty awesome, but he’s no Mr. Ed so I have to rely on his body language to tell me when he is irritated or in pain. Also, horses are incredibly good at reading people’s body language; in other words, they feed on and react to people’s body language. When I feel frustrated that I didn’t put the halter on right for the 1846th time, Lou can sense my frustration and in turn, he becomes irritable as well. I’ve learned to become aware of my emotions, and to get them under control so that the horse (or the rider) doesn’t sense that something is wrong. Both skills are going to be useful for me as an OT, I just never thought that I would learn them and practice them on a horse farm. Did I mention that I am so in love with this “job?”

Well, friends, that’s all I’ve got for tonight! As always, thanks for reading 🙂

Hours at barn:

Monday 2/17/14    1:45pm-7pm

Thursday 2/20/14   4:45-7pm