The gift, made possible through a donation from The Marisa Tufaro Foundation, has afforded two children the opportunity to each receive two months of hippotherapy at the Special Strides Therapeutic Riding Center in Monroe.
Each of the recipients, who Special Strides’ executive directors selected from a pool of candidates meeting specific criteria at our foundation’s request, are Middlesex County residents whose families either do not have health insurance or whose families’ health insurer does not cover the cost of hippotherapy.
According to Special Strides’ website: “Having a child with a challenge often places a financial burden on a family. Too often therapy is not covered by insurance. Therefore, it is the goal of Special Strides to help provide all children an opportunity to experience our magic regardless of their financial status.”
Prior to receiving her heart transplant, Marisa was on home instruction, living with two life-threatening medical conditions that steroids and other medications were managing. Side effects of those drugs diminished her strength and physical stamina. She worked with physical therapists in a traditional setting prior to receiving hippotherapy at Special Strides.
Marisa immediately bonded with the staff and formed a special relationship with several of the horses including one named Johnny and two other ponies named Romeo and Juliet. Hippotherapy increased Marisa’s stamina and strength. Equally important, Marisa’s experience at Special Strides boosted her morale and self-esteem. Marisa spoke frequently to doctors and nurses about her experience with the horses during her hospitalization, which helped to provide a diversion during medical procedures.
“The relationship between Marisa and Johnny amazed me,” one of the physical therapists at the riding center wrote to Cyndi and Greg shortly after Marisa’s passing about a horse Marisa met. “He saw something special in Marisa and responded to her with a gentleness and love.”
Hippotherapy, according to the American Hippotherapy Association, “Refers to how occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology professionals use evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement to engage sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems to achieve functional outcomes. In conjunction with the affordances of the equine environment and other treatment strategies, hippotherapy is part of a patient’s integrated plan of care.”
According to an article about Special Strides in The Star Ledger of Newark, “Hippotherapy can help those with autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorder, hypotonia, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. And it can be used with children who have developmental delays and who need encouragement to catch up with their peers. More than half of Special Strides’ clients receive occupational or physical therapy, or equine-facilitated psychotherapy. The remainder participate in educational and recreational programs, such as carriage driving or adaptive riding, during which a certified therapeutic riding instructor helps an individual with special needs to learn how to ride a horse. Many clients who discover hippotherapy have already been through traditional physical rehabilitation for years.”
Located in Monroe at Congress Hill Farm, Special Strides is an all equestrian training center with 200 acres of outdoor and indoor training areas and wooded trails, which include a variety of sensory equipment such as trampolines, swings, an adventure course with balance beams and playground equipment.
Individuals can explore the farm during therapy and witness the changes of seasons, picking vegetables in the gardens and visiting other farm animals such as a rabbit, cats, goats, sheep, chickens and alpaca.