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

Posts tagged ‘horses’

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

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Hoof prints on the heart

“Horses change lives. They give young people confidence and self esteem. They provide peace and tranquility to troubled souls; they give us hope”

-Toni Robinson

It amazes me how quickly I have become attached to the horses, the riders, the staff/volunteers, and the general atmosphere of the farm. Tomorrow marks my 3 month anniversary with DR, and I think I love it more everyday. I really can’t believe the impact that it has had on my life already…I know that internships are supposed to help you gain experience and reaffirm your commitment to your chosen career path, but I never imagined that I would feel so strongly about an internship as I do with this one!

It was sort of weird today- Miss Jennifer and Miss Corky wanted to know if I was coming back to volunteer in the fall when school started up again, of course I said I would come back if they’d have me. I honestly think that I have to continue to volunteer here so that I maintain my sanity. As I’ve said before, I find the barn to be extremely soothing. They both said that they were so glad that I was interning with them-and they thanked me for my willingness to help out. It was nice for them to thank me, sometimes I feel like they are helping me way more than I am helping them.

We have 2 new horses at the farm!! Mindy, a rescue, and Charlie, a halflinger! They enthusiastically greeted me as I drove up the driveway, so naturally I stopped and chatted with them. Both horses will be used in the DR program;however, they both need some training in order to become full fledged therapy horses. I’m looking forward to seeing their progress, just like I saw Mollie progress within the program. Not to be pessimistic (or philosophical, you choose), but in keeping with the balance of nature, no good news is without bad news. I found out today that Mindy and Charlie are Lou and AJ’s replacement. I also found out that Lou’s leg injury isn’t healing, in fact, he’s not improving very much at all. This news, especially about Lou, broke my heart. I’ve really gotten attached to him over the past few months. After all, I spend the most time with him, and I’ve been trying to nurse him back to health.  *Aside* Please don’t think that Dream Riders just throws horses away when they are no longer of use to the program… that’s not it at all!! Lou will most likely go to a retirement home for horses, yes they have those, where he will live out his natural days without stress. AJ will be going to Miss Jennifer’s cousin’s farm to chill and be ridden by riders who have riding knowledge, so hopefully he’ll be happy! I want what is best for both Lou and AJ, but I am really going to miss Lou’s company and his ornery nature. I guess this is good practice for when I have to say goodbye to patients with whom I’ve developed friendships with. I’m going to squeeze in all the Lou time that I can during his remain days at Dream Riders (however long that might be!)

Today I was reunited with the old team-Me ,Zach, Mollie, and Amanda (Zach’s other side walker.)  Zach apparently missed me because he was super vocal today and laughing.. which he hadn’t done since I switched riders. He also was saying “walk” clearly on the first try, which has been a struggle since my first day-apparently he hasn’t been saying it much since I’ve been “away”. I had really missed working with him. He is such a calm rider, and he never ceases to amaze me each week with something new that he shows me he can do or say. Autism is a funny disorder- it really doesn’t make sense sometimes in the way that it manifests in different people and different forms within the same person. Example: Zach knows all of his colors,numbers, farm animals, and shapes, but he has trouble saying the word “walk” clearly. He can say other things just fine, but walk gives him trouble. It’s really bizarre.  He’s inspired me to write my abnormal psychology research paper on Autism so that I can learn more about it, and hopefully be able to interact with him in a more effective way!

Monday’s always leave me exhausted, so I’m going to sign off! I’ll post again soon, not Thursday though because I won’t be at the farm. Thanks for reading!

Hours at Barn:

2:00 pm-7pm

 

Pictures!!!!

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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 🙂

Spring Forward… Fall Back!

Spring has arrived at Dream Riders as of yesterday-the air was warm and the flowers were in bloom, but the most telling sign that spring has sprung was the massive amount of hair that was shed yesterday! I swear, I had enough excess horse hair to make a Shetland Pony (or 2!!) Needless to say, I felt like I brought half of the barn with me when I went home last night… so.much.horse.hair!

It was wonderful to fall back into the swing of barn life after my break last week. During Spring break, the barn was always on my mind. Someone would say something, or I would notice something that would remind me of one of the riders. I met this girl named Daisy on my trip to Isle of Palms, SC and I accidentally called her Daisy Lava Girl (the pseudonym of one of the riders). I nearly died of embarrassment, but it warmed my heart to realize just how much this experience has had on me- and it’s only been a month ! Almost everything that I do in my “real life” (life outside DR, that is) seems to relate to what I do at DR, which has to be a good sign, right?!

So….about last night… yes it was wonderful to be back, but there was a TON of excitement that happened. I worked with James again last night. If you’ll recall, James is 4 years old and has Down Syndrome. I’m 99% sure that the extra chromosome makes him extra cute- I just love him! He’s so happy and so very silly!  James seems to love adventure; he’s certainly not shy! He is so small that he doesn’t need to sit in a saddle- which means that his side-walkers (like me) need to pay close attention and hold on to his feet so that he doesn’t lose his balance and fall off the horse. At the end of each lesson, the riders go on a trail ride around the outside of the ring. There are a few fun obstacles throughout the trail that are designed to stimulate some sensory functions… plus, it’s super fun :). One such obstacle is the noodles. Basically, they are foam pool noodles that hang down like the octopus cleaner things in a car wash: same principle, really! Well, Mr. James, being the adrenaline junkie that he is, tipped himself back whilst going through the noodles and proceeded to slide off Malchi… thankfully, he didn’t hit the ground. He was caught long before he hit the ground by the other side walker. WOW- it all happened so fast, Malchi almost ran me over trying to get out of the way(he was doing the right thing), and I watched as the laws of time and space were being bent before my very eyes… in reality, I probably stood there looking like a dead fish with bulging eyes and my mouth hanging open. Little James didn’t shed a tear, or even look sad for that matter! He was smiling and ready to get back on the horse… bravo, James!  I had never experienced anything like that before, and it really is a rare occurrence at DR (thankfully). It just serves as a reminder to always be alert when working with patients-things like this can, and do, happen quickly. Whew- just writing about it makes my heart race… I’m glad that everyone was alright, and that (as a group)we remained calm.

In other, not as exciting news, I am making great progress with Lou! For the first time ever he let me pick (clean) all 4 hooves! Apparently he’s particular about who can mess with his feet, and it’s about time that he let me! I’d be lying if I said I was above a little bribery 😉 I brought him a green apple from my fridge and gave it to him when I first arrived, and then promised him treats if he let me pick all 4 feet without being difficult-success!!! He has been such a trooper while I relearn the ropes of horse care- he probably deserves more apples in the weeks to come for putting up with me!

Dirty, hot, sweaty, and feeling the after effects of adrenaline, I walked to my car smiling because, once again, I have the coolest “job” in the world 🙂

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!