Since receiving her doctorate in physical therapy ten years ago, Brandi O’Reilly has been listening to the parents of the special needs children that she works with at Dynamic Strides Therapy and becoming aware of a lot of unaddressed needs. While the children have access to wonderful medical care, their physical condition has confined them to a round of clinics, therapies and doctors week after week without any break in the mundane routine. Brandi’s vision is to create a therapy center that incorporates all kinds of services and therapies: matching horses with children for equine therapy (also called hippotherapy), a sensory gym and numerous other services to give the special needs children something truly special to look forward to every week.
Horses and Kids – the Perfect Match
Brandi says that horses are so intelligent, they can perceive emotionally what a human being needs. When this is matched with a special needs child, who cannot express herself verbally and is also too disabled to walk, it empowers the child. The thrill for Brandi when she sees the child smiling is the greatest reward possible. Even better, that empowerment lasts long past the horseback ride. Brandi tells a story about a little boy with autism spectrum whose outbursts and headbutting almost prevented getting him on the horse, but after a few sessions, he began to love it, brings carrots to the horse and his mom said that he is, not only most verbal during equine therapy, he stays verbal for hours after returning home. Dr. Nancy notes that this is the goal, to create positive change for the family and the community as well as the child who receives therapy.
Dr. Nancy also points out that this connection is also good for the horses. Since she began showing and breeding horses, she has often encountered people who buy a horse without thought for the responsibility of owning a large animal that lives over 30 years. She remarks that many people don’t buy insurance and if they’re showing the horse and it’s not winning, they want to get rid of it. Brandi says that most of their horses are, in fact, donated. One horse that was recently donated is diabetic and its owner couldn’t get to the stable daily to treat its diabetic needs. However, the horse is only 13 years old, is quite active and perfect for their therapy needs. As a charitable organization, the horses are also tax deductable for the donors.
Goal Is Full Services Year Round
With the current facility, therapy is limited to an 8-week session in the fall and a similar 8-week session in the spring. The new facility that is being built will accommodate year round, climate-controlled therapies. Speech, occupational and physical therapy can be done with or without horses. A sensory gym is in the works, but funds will have to be raised before opening that phase of the facility Sensory gyms are used for children with autism spectrum or have sensory processing disorders. This can be used for therapy and for public use. Brandi also hopes to have scholarships available so all children will have access to the services. Currently many facilities have to limit services for Medicaid patients because they can’t operate at a loss. Brandi hopes fundraising will cover the need so every child can benefit and reach their maximum potential.
Ongoing Vision and Upcoming Fundraiser
Brandi notes that there are many new exciting tools available in larger cities and some parents travel and take their children to utilize these sensory gyms and other facilities. Her dream is to have it all in Southwest Missouri and make it available to everyone. Coming to a farm where there are animals and different ways to interact and experience life is preferable to the routine of the clinical setting. They plan to have a doctor on the premises for examinations and as many teams of therapists as necessary to meet the needs of the community.
Right now, there is a waiting list of 80 children, but they are working on hiring a second team. A fundraiser, called Harvest Moon, is being planned for October 14, 2017 at Brandi and Ryan’s farm. The best restaurants in Springfield, Missouri are providing food and there will be a food and wine pairing during the fundraising portion and music and dancing under the stars afterwards. Check out this Facebook page for more information. Listen to this interview for more stories about how Brandi came to dream of this amazing facility and Dr. Nancy’s experience with horses.