One-of-a-kind equine-assisted rehab sessions provided by women for women
By Shirley Clukey
July 25, 2010 (Alpine) -- “This is too beautiful, too simple, too good not to share with others,” said Catherine Hand, founder and director of Dream Rider, at a recent training of volunteers. Dream Rider is an equine-assisted rehabilitation program for breast cancer survivors.
Don’t be fooled by the program’s name; it does not involve horse riding lessons and no horse experience is necessary. Using human to horse contact, music and the movement of the horse, a client is led through a gradual progression of exercises designed specifically for her rehabilitation needs. It starts with the simple act of lying prone on the horse’s back, and aligning her breath with that of the horse.
Throughout each session, the horse is guided and the client’s safety assured by the support of trained assistants. The exercises not only help to improve blood circulation and oxygenation, respiration and blood pressure, but they also improve balance, strength, and endurance. One volunteer exclaimed during training, “It’s hard to believe that something so simple can make such a difference!” But it does. Hand has measured and documented these improvements.
The Woman to Horse Connection
Prior to her first rehab session, breast cancer patient, Nicole Beguelin feared and avoided horses. Afterward, she wrote, “I was greeted with respect and kindness from Catherine and the volunteers. It was a very nice feeling to be taken care of right from the start . . . [I was able] to relax and bond with one of the gentlest horses I have ever met.
It was exciting for me to actually sit atop Shalom for the first time and feel his energy, strength and calmness. I instantly had more energy and could not help but put a smile on. Nothing we did caused my body any pain; it was all done very slowly and gently . . . I look forward to bonding with Shalom again and gaining a better, stronger and fuller self. My life can only be enriched by connecting with such a wonderful energy . . . Thank you!”
The Need for Post-Treatment Rehab
While breast cancer treatment can mean the difference between life and death, in some cases the quality of life for survivors after treatment takes a huge plunge. Feelings of loss and grief, as well as physical scarring, weakness and loss of mobility can cause both emotional and physical isolation of survivors. Few health care facilities offer post-treatment support that addresses these issues.
For Hand, herself a breast cancer survivor and an advanced instructor for physical and cognitive disabilities certified by the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA), her breast cancer treatment two years ago saved her life, but left her debilitated, tied to an oxygen tank and a wheelchair. Because of her previous work with children who had mental and physical challenges, she saw at once the potential benefits of equine-assisted activities for herself. She began doing the simple exercise mentioned above, with the help of her pony and a friend.
“By doing just this exercise only once a week, at the end of a three-month period, I was able to breathe without an oxygen tank and to walk unassisted. I want to share this with as many people as possible.”
While the benefits of equine-assisted therapy for those dealing with physical and neurological impairments are well-documented, most medical professionals aren’t aware of the potential benefits of equine-assisted activities for breast cancer patients, nor do they know of the options available that do not involve traditional riding. Unfortunately, many in the equestrian community, as well, do not see those affected by breast cancer as a group they can serve, but because of her own equine training and breast cancer treatment, Hand is driven to spread the benefits of equine-assisted rehabilitation for breast cancer survivors.
How Breast Cancer Survivors Can Help Themselves and Others
Pilot program sessions will be held every Saturday in Alpine from now through September. By participating in Dream Rider’s pilot program, clients can reap the benefits of equine-assisted rehabilitation for themselves, and provide the physical evidence of improvement that will make such programs credible to health professionals and accessible to many other survivors. All breast cancer survivors are invited to either receive rehabilitation or to assist other women who need this service. Sessions are free, private and held in a picturesque environment where the client’s dignity is respected.
For more information, please e-mail Hand at Catherineh@prodigy.net. Include your phone number in your message, and she will respond to you promptly.
To ensure clients’ safety and privacy, appointments must be made in advance. No drop-ins are allowed and no visitors, spectators, family members or pets may attend. Rehab sessions are not provided for children.