Hospital enables young patients with cerebral palsy, disabilities to take part in therapeutic riding program

The Adaptive Sports Academy at Hospital for Special Surgery's Lerner Children's Pavilion is enabling young patients with cerebral palsy or another physical challenge to participate in activities they never dreamed possible. The academy organizes trips and recreational experiences for pediatric patients to build their self-confidence, encourage independence, and increase physical activity and mobility. The program is offered without cost, thanks to the generosity of donors and sponsors.

About 20 patients have signed up for the next trip to Endeavor Therapeutic Horsemanship in Mount Kisco, New York on August 28. Endeavor riding instructors certified by PATH Intl. will introduce the young people, ages 5 to 21, to horseback riding. Endeavor is a PATH Intl. Premier Accredited center, and its mission is to empower individuals with a broad range of special needs by providing the highest quality equine assisted activities and therapies in an inclusive and welcoming environment. The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) is a credentialing organization, global authority, resource and advocate for equine-assisted activities and therapies for individuals with special needs.

Most of the patients who've signed up have cerebral palsy or another condition that affects body movement, muscle control, posture and balance. Some have had multiple surgeries by pediatric orthopedic surgeons at Hospital for Special Surgery, located in Manhattan, and have been patients for years. Many use crutches or a walker to get around.

Studies have shown that equine-assisted activities and therapies are beneficial for people with a broad range of disabilities. "The benefits include improved posture, muscle tone, and gait patterns, or walking. These gains can lead to functional improvement in everyday activities like walking, jumping, and running in children with cerebral palsy," said Christina Pierozzi, OTR/L, an occupational therapist in the Pediatric Rehabilitation Department at Hospital for Special Surgery. "Children with CP can also have muscle imbalances or spasticity, which can impair their motor skills. Participating in a therapeutic riding program can help overall muscle balance, which improves standing and walking."

Previous academy outings have proven to be life-changing for many children and teenagers, enabling them to participate in a sport or activity for the very first time. On previous trips, they were thrilled to learn they could climb a rock wall, ski down a slope or even ride a wave while surfing.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for the kids to socialize with other patients and accomplish things they didn't realize they could achieve," says Peyton Katz, pediatric patient and family care coordinator at HSS. "Some kids are not sure at first how well they'll do, but they always exceed their own expectations. Some parents cry when they see what their child can achieve."

Endeavor executive director, Emily Bushnell notes, "Endeavor is thrilled to be welcoming the patients from HSS, along with their families, to the farm. The participants will begin to learn how to ride, will brush horses in the barn, and learn more about horses in our equine themed classroom through arts and crafts".

"The Adaptive Sports Academy gives our patients a chance to develop new skills and interests, and it promotes mobility and activity. It also reinforces physical therapy goals by engaging participants in a new activity and requiring them to use their bodies in a new way," explains Dr. Lisa Ipp, chief of Pediatric Medicine at HSS. "There is also an emotional component. Patients are so excited about what they can achieve, and parents are so thrilled to watch them. The outings have also cultivated connections between families who stay in contact long after the event ends."

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