By Martie Thompson
Vicky Carregal had worked as a physical therapist specializing in pediatrics for more than 10 years when she was exposed to hippotherapy, which uses a horse’s movements as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment. She said she started using this newfound knowledge with three or four children that were already patients of hers and found they started seeing expedited progress: the children became stronger and more mobile.
“It took just a few months for me to realize how successful this could be,” Carregal said. “I brought in a speech therapist and an occupational therapist and we were amazed at the progress.”
Carregal said that children who arrived for therapy in an agitated state would just settle and calm down and be able to do a task.
“It’s almost like the horse knows he needs to counterbalance the child,” Carregal said.
She formed Horseplay Therapy Center in 2014 as a 501(c) 3 since she feels passionate about offering hippotherapy to everyone who needs it. Although insurance is accepted, the non-profit status allows the organization to hold fundraisers and have sponsors.
According to Carregal, Horseplay’s largest fundraiser is its annual Fall Festival, which takes place at Southeast Veterinary Hospital on State Road 207, right next door to Horseplay Therapy Center. This year’s family friendly event will be held on Saturday, Nov. 2 from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. Carregal said the fundraiser will feature all types of games and activities, including pony rides, and the community is invited to attend — and support Horseplay.
Carregal said that Horseplay Therapy Center presently has six horses — Captain, Brave, Ringo, Lizzie, Ringo, Rebel and Stoney — as well as Prissy, who belongs to a woman who volunteers with the group two days a week. The horses all have a particular temperament, which allows them to be therapy horses; they have to keep a brisk pace and be strong, but they never work more than two hours in a day. Carregal said that Horseplay’s location, off State Road 207, also offers three treatment rooms for “off the horse” therapy.
So what does hippotherapy look like? Carregal said it is different from therapeutic riding, which teaches basic riding skills. Instead, at Horseplay Therapy Center, they outfit the horse with bareback pads and no stirrups or reins in order to allow the child to receive as much movement from the horse’s movement as possible. The child then begins to move in rhythm and in sync with the horse, improving balance and stabilization of the child’s core. According to Carregal, a horse’s hips and pelvis move much like a human’s, so therapists are able to work on a child’s posture while on the horse.
As for speech therapy, Carregal said, “You’d be surprised about how determined children are to get their horse to ‘go!’”
She said the children are happy and content to be outside and hearing the nature and animal noises and look forward to going to therapy.
“I wasn’t a ‘horse person’ growing up, but hippotherapy has become so important to me,” Carregal said. “I’m passionate about offering this therapy that also provides social and emotional benefits.”
Horseplay’s annual Fall Festival fundraiser will be held at Southeast Veterinary Hospital, 1885 State Road 207 in St. Augustine on Nov. 2 from 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. The event will feature horse rides, activities for kids, face painting, a bounce house, arts and crafts, and a petting zoo. All proceeds benefit Horseplay Therapy Center. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Visit www.horseplaytherapy.org for more information about Horseplay or email email@example.com if you have questions about hippotherapy.
Photo courtesy Vicky Carregal
Vicky Carregal, founder of Horseplay Therapy Center, with Captain.