By keeping the focus on play, the Children’s TherAplay Foundation Inc. utilizes innovative physical and occupational therapy techniques for children with special needs. Licensed therapists incorporate traditional therapy tools as well as hippotherapy into each child’s treatment plan. The TherAplay facility is located at Lucky Farms, a scenic horse farm in Carmel, where the four-legged staff members are always welcoming and a source of curiosity for new patients.

Derived from the Greek word for horse, hippotherapy refers to treatment aided by a horse. The movement of the horse can be used in physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Unlike therapeutic riding, hippotherapy is prescribed by a physician as part of a treatment plan and is administered by a team that includes a licensed therapist in conjunction with a professional horse handler and a specially screened and trained therapy horse. “With hippotherapy, the horse impacts the rider. It is a one-on-one treatment with a licensed therapist, unlike a therapeutic riding lesson, and it’s also often covered by insurance and Medicaid,” said Lisa Kobek, executive director of the foundation. TherAplay serves children with special needs between 18 months to 13 years old.

In the clinic setting, a horse’s gait, or stride, coupled with the animal’s warmth can be used to treat a wide variety of diagnosis, including autism, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy. “Every aspect of working with the horse touches on a part of the therapy, including the feel, sounds, and even smells of the horse as part of sensory integrative therapy,” Kobek said.

Patients with brain and spinal cord injuries, genetic disorders, and learning disabilities may also be helped by hippotherapy. Therapists incorporate a variety of exercises for each child, which can include riding backwards and standing with assistance. Doing so helps strengthen posture, head and trunk control, and balance. “You’ll notice that the children aren’t in saddles. The special therapy blankets they sit on allow the kiddos to feel the three-dimensional movement. Having this closeness and really feeling the horse is so helpful for patients across a wide variety of diagnoses,” said Kobek. Patients experience hippotherapy benefits with muscle tone and strength gains, and with gross motor skill improvements such as sitting, standing, and walking. Range of motion and coordination also increase.

TherAplay horses are chosen for the type of movement they produce, and for their temperament. All horses receive extensive training for their therapeutic role, and are handled with the utmost tenderness and care in the immaculate barn in which they are housed. In addition to the horse arena, TherAplay therapists utilize traditional therapy tools in the child-friendly clinic area and an outdoor playground in which therapy is administered in the form of play. “Some of our kids have a long journey in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices, others experience daily pain. Here, we want their time to be something they look forward to doing each session,” said Kobek.

Therapeutic goals that are determined by the TherAplay treatment team along with the patient and his or her family. Parents and family members can observe the sessions. As a proud parent of a hearing-impaired child, Kobek has first-hand knowledge of the benefits therapy can have on a child with special needs. “Children can spend a significant amount of time here, one and a half years of therapy on average, so our relationships with the families are so important to us,” added Kobek. A recent patient family survey found that 100 percent of families would recommend TherAplay to others. Because the program is so effective, TherAplay often has hippotherapy clinics across the country ask to share techniques.

To meet operating costs of more than $900,000 annually while keeping true to its vision of helping as many families as possible regardless of their financial situations, the foundation relies on the generosity of corporate and private donations as well as other charitable organizations, such as the Town of Fishers G.I.V.E. Committee. TherAplay is a registered, not for profit charity organization. “We work from earned income as well as contributions from our generous donors. We are so grateful,” Kobek said.

The foundation holds crucial fundraisers throughout the year, such as the 5K walk held in May and the golf tournament in June. The biggest fundraising event of the year is the annual Hoe-Down and Wild West Casino night. In it’s eleventh year, the event averages more than 400 attendees. The fun evening includes a live band and a mechanical bull, as well as live and silent auctions. The objective is to help the foundation continue to provide a warm and supportive environment to help children and their families achieve their goals and dreams. The Hoe-Down and Wild West Casino event is open to the public and provides opportunities for patrons to support the important work of the TherAplay team. (See details on the foundation’s website at www.childrenstheraplay.org.)

important to include the sidebar to tie in the story to Fishers

Sidebar: The Town of Fishers G.I.V.E. Committee The Town of Fishers G.I.V.E. (Generosity, Involvement, and Volunteerism by Employees) committee is comprised entirely of town employees. The committee has raised more than $30,000 for local charities by hosting toy and food drives, volunteer outings, and fund-raising events.

Each year, committee members suggest ideas and then take a vote. The charity of choice is notified, and the fundraising begins! This year, the committee selected the Children’s TherAplay Foundation. “A portion of the proceeds from the concession stand at the new Nickel Plate District Amphitheater will go to TherAplay,” said Aimee Ector, the human resources assistant for the Town of Fishers.

The Town of Fishers employees are happily committed to improving the community through charity-based initiatives. “Our popular inflatables at the Fishers Freedom Festival are our biggest fundraiser. This year, we will be back at the Festival with the Run Express Train Station for toddlers, and a rock climb, jumbo slide, and obstacle course for the older kids. The money raised will go to TherAplay,” said Ector.

This summer, the Fishers Parks & Recreation Department will also be accepting in-kind donations for therAplay at the Summer Concert Series, and Movies in the Park activities.

The G.I.V.E committee has served numerous organizations, including Catch & Release, Chaucie’s Place, Delaware and Fall Creek Township Food Pantries, and the Hamilton County Red Cross. For more information on the G.I.V.E. committee, contact Aimee Ector at (317) 595-3106 or ectora@fishers.in.us

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