Doc part of a team helping a little girl improve her balance

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Two-year-old Isla of Yanchep is made comfortable on the back of hippotherapy pony Doc by physiotherapist Nicky Bushell. Picture: Anita McInnes

DANA Barker of Yanchep watches volunteers and a physiotherapist carefully place her two-year-old daughter on the back of Doc, a pony who has been with HorsePower Swan Valley for about eight years.

Doc, who is about 20-years-old, stands perfectly still as though he knows how vulnerable the little girl on his back is.

Little Isla was deprived of oxygen during her birth and as a result she was diagnosed with hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy stage III.

Secondary to this Isla now has quadriplegia cerebral palsy gross motor function classification system (GMFCS) V, cortical vision impairment, seizures and microcephaly.

Children with quadriplegia cerebral palsy GMFCS V are limited in their ability to maintain anti-gravity head and trunk postures and control leg and arm movements.

This is where ponies such as Doc and hippotherapy – carried out by specially trained therapists and specially trained HorsePower volunteers – play their part.

Once Isla was safely on board and supported by physiotherapist Nicky Bushell and volunteers Tania Harvey or Jenny Hale a very patient Doc was led around an indoor arena by volunteer Danielle Knight.

Hippotherapy (hippo is the Greek word for horse) uses a horse’s multi-dimensional walk to transfer variable, repetitive and rhythmic movement to participants, which provides sensory input to the brain and nervous system with the resulting responses in the participant similar to the human movement patterns of the pelvis while walking.

Isla shows her determination and concentration during her 30-minute therapy session at HorsePower Swan Valley on Thursday, September 10. Picture: Anita McInnes

Under the direction of Mrs Bushell and the support of the volunteers Isla was assisted and encouraged throughout the 30-minute therapy session.

Mrs Bushell said while Doc was moving Isla had to move a little bit.

“She can use the energy and movement of the horse to help with her balance and strength,’’ she said.

Isla’s efforts impressed everyone including Ms Barker, who said it was her best attempt since starting hippotherapy in October last year.

“Isla always continues to surprise us,’’ she said.

“Isla has had quite a few setbacks in the past few weeks, with two hospital admissions and increased seizure activity so it was great to see her strength building again.

“We are so proud of how far Isla has come, she continues to prove the doctors wrong.’’

Ms Barker said Isla’s hippotherapy had been interrupted by Covid-19 restrictions but had helped her development immensely.

“It has helped her core strength and head control and assisted with her gait strength.’’

HorsePower Swan Valley handler Danielle Knight leads Doc while trained volunteers Jenny Hale and Tania Harvey support Isla during her best effort since starting hippotherapy in October. Picture: Anita McInnes

Racing and Wagering Western Australia (RWWA) partners with HorsePower Australia via its Community TAB and Off the Track programs.

Last month RWWA said it had committed another $80,000 to HorsePower Australia with this year’s contribution subsidising costs for participants as well as supporting volunteer training and horse welfare.

HorsePower Australia executive officer Kelly Mansfield said during the Covid-19 period the partnership was important.

“Their support, particularly during these difficult times provides an added boost to our centres and volunteers in caring for our horses and providing ongoing therapeutic programs for people with disabilities across our state,” she said.

“Many families in our community were already doing it tough before Covid-19, Community TAB’s continued support of the Hearts and Horses participant scholarships will provide those in need of financial assistance, support to benefit from our programs.”

RWWA chairman Jeff Ovens said the partnership with HorsePower Australia and Community TAB was important to RWWA as well as the racing industry.

“HorsePower Australia not only assists Western Australians with disabilities, but also supports the rehoming of ex-racehorses through their program, training them to be therapy horses in their post-racing careers,” he said.

There are 14 HorsePower centres in WA including Hills, Swan Valley and Brigadoon.