WHITEHALL, Mich. — A West Michigan nonprofit dedicated to helping others needs help of their own to continue operating.
Muskegon County’s ‘Heal With A Horse’ works to help emotionally heal children through horse-assisted therapy.
Founder Kimberly Patton said it has been getting harder to keep the program going with a lack of financial support and help.
Patton started the organization three years ago after she lost her best friend to cancer. At the moment, she rents stalls for her four therapy horses in a small barn in Whitehall.
The therapy has made a difference for three-year-old Louis Miller, according to his mom, Lauren. Louis can’t walk, but he has never let that stop him. He’s been coming to ‘Heal With A Horse’ for just two weeks.
The movement of a horse under Louis is “really good for brain development, and he doesn’t really get that, so when you’re on a horse it simulates that,” said Lauren.
During Louis’ therapy, they also work on fine motor skills, getting him to use muscles he normally doesn’t use.
“There’s a protocol for every kid and every disability,” said Patton, “so if they’re autistic, we’re maybe working on speech or verbal commands.”
‘Heal With A Horse’ works with kids of all ages and disabilities from cancer to autism and children with mental and emotional problems.
“We had one gentlemen that is severely autistic and is nonverbal,” said Patton. “He never spoken a word in his life, and a month ago he said the first words, and it was to his horse. And he told the horse to go.”
Patton started the organization three years ago with one child patient. Now there are 50.
“It’s real hard at times to sleep at night thinking, ‘Okay, how can I make this work?'” said Patton. “I somehow have to make this work, because they’re counting on you. It means a lot to these kids.”
Patton says it has been hard to get funding for the program. Everything offerd to families is free. She has tried applying for dozens of grants, but a lot of places just don’t get how ‘horse therapy’ can help. Patton says it’s getting harder every month to stay afloat.
Brayden Janetzki is another three-year-old who has been going through the program for almost a year now. He has spinal muscular atrophy. His mom, Christina Janetzki says its been amazing to see how Braydon improves with horse therapy. “For me as a parent with a child of a special need, it just brightens your day. It just gives you one extra smile, something that is so enjoyable, that you can go to see your son and child accomplish something that you know they wouldn’t normally be able to do.”
A lot of these parents have their children undergo other therapy, and all therapy does something different for a child, depending on their condition.
But what makes this kind so different is that, these parents say, it’s fun for the kids.
“A lot of people say, “Why a horse?” said Christina Cooper an equine therapist. “A horse has a special power, they can read people.”
For more information about the program and how you can help or get involved, go to the Heal With A Horse web site.