ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Horse therapy program benefits pediatric patients

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Julian De La Rosa is five years old, but his mother says he has a personality beyond his age. De La Rosa had to spend 12 weeks in the hospital recently after surgery. His mom says he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy a few years ago and he can’t walk independently as of yet. So, being out with these horses, his older sister Victoria says, is amazing to see.

“It looks like he’s having fun, enjoying himself, looking around, it’s something different that he doesn’t get to do every day,” explained Victoria.

“Yea, that’s one thing,” added his mother, Lisa. “He’ll try everything. All his therapists, or even in school, he goes to a specialized school, they say that. Any new thing that they come up with, he at least tries.”

Julian is one of the patients from the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital participating in Pony Power Therapies.

“You saw a big change in his posture, even his therapist saw it,” said Lisa. “He gets outpatient therapy after this and they saw a big change in his posture trying to build his core strength.”

Pony Power Therapies is a nonprofit organization set in the foothills of the Ramapo Mountains that offers therapeutic riding. Tuesday was designated for pediatric patients.

Founder and Executive Director of Pony Power Therapies Dana Spett told NJTV News she started the program 17 years ago because her daughter has some sensory processing challenges.

“We’re allowing them to get out of a medical setting, have some therapeutic opportunities. They probably don’t realize there are therapeutic opportunities here being out in nature, having a family activity, moving their bodies on horseback, getting dirty. It’s just a really nice different perspective that should help in the healing process,” said Spett.

Six-year-old Gabriella Sommers is a participant in the therapy session.

“She has a countdown chart on the refrigerator of these horses and a stable,” said her mother, Michelle, “so she’s like ‘mommy, two more sleeps, two more sleeps.”

Michelle says her daughter has been through a lot, including 72 doctor appointments in three months, as they tried to figure out what was wrong after a rash appeared on her back.

“Our lives stopped,” said Michelle. “So, to figure out what she had and what we could do to help her.”

It turns out it was lipoatrophic panniculitis, an auto-immune disease that affects her legs. More specifically, she has pain when she walks long distances.

“Sometimes she doesn’t want to tell us because she’s afraid she’s going to have to go back to the doctor again,” explained Michelle, “but she’s a strong little girl.”

A strong little girl who seems to love horses.

“So my husband and I are going to do what we can to continue with it,” Michelle added.

Dr. Stephen Percy with Hackensack Meridian Health said this allows kids to just be kids.

“It lets them forget about the challenges they have, and lets the parents forget about it, too, and just enjoy themselves.”