Maddy is a friendly, energetic 5-year old girl who loves life. For the past two years at Equestrian Connection, she has accomplished great gains from therapy on her pony, MJ. Prior to joining EC, Maddy made it clear she did not like traditional physical therapy. Her physical therapist then recommended hippotherapy (equine therapy). Maddy’s mom, Aimee, points out that from the start, EC has been “the warmest, most welcoming place ever.” Maddy immediately connected with the horses. Robin, Maddy’s therapeutic riding instructor, helps Maddy build strength by encouraging her to stand up tall in her stirrups and hit the arena’s balls as she is riding MJ. She also directs Maddy to reach for beanie babies and throw them into the arena’s games in order to improve her fine and gross motor skills. When asked how horseback riding has helped Maddy physically, Aimee notes that her stability has improved. “It dramatically helps her balance and core strength,” Aimee says. “She can walk up the stairs now, which is something we didn’t think she would do this quickly.” But physical strength isn’t the only thing Maddy has gained from riding therapy at EC. After using sign language to communicate for the past four years, Maddy has begun to speak. It helped her show Robin and her teachers at school that she is a very smart little girl. She now throws the requested color beanie baby into the bucket during a lesson and even verbalizes the color on her own. Pleased with her daughter’s ongoing progress, Aimee notes, “Her therapy rides seem to incorporate everything. It just got everything to work together. I don’t have to fight her to do physical therapy anymore—she’s doing it without even knowing.” Maddy is currently learning to write her letters. “We’re trying out using a small whiteboard during her riding therapy,” Aimee says. Aimee and Robin are hopeful that in addition to physical strength and speech, writing will be another skill Maddy learns to do while on horseback. “Maddy has the best time of her life when she’s here. She has three adults giving her all their attention. It’s her favorite half hour of the week.”

Keith's journey begins at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesdays when he boards a Pace paratransit bus that takes him to Union Station, followed by a Metra train ride to Lake Forest. Keith then boards a second bus to arrive at his therapy destination- Equestrian Connection. Keith participates in the Equestrian Connection Balance for Life program, which helps him with his Multiple Sclerosis. He best describes the power of the horse/human relationship as an "intuitive and loving connection with humans." He feels horses respond to his intuition as much as his physical commands. After therapy rides, Keith once again begins his return journey to the South Side of Chicago, arriving home at 6:00 p.m. Keith feels it's a day well spent, and Keith's smile has become something we all look forward to seeing!

Meet Maddy

Meet Keith

Meet Reagan

Our Clients

While Reagan loves coming to Equestrian Connection and riding Pepper every week, she also looks forward to her time in art therapy. Beginning in October 2008, Reagan has worked with Julie Ludwick (ATR, LCPC), EC’s art therapist, using art to express herself. “Hi, my name is Reagan. I am an artist at EC,” Reagan proudly tells people. Reagan is an artist who is diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and can stand only with assistance. She is 16 years old and has been at EC for eight years. In 2009, she created an art piece called “Self Portrait,” which measures 3.5-feet tall. In this piece, she portrays herself standing on one foot, with both arms raised in the air. Last year, Reagan created another 3-foot tall plaster gauze sculpture depicting her cousin, Brian, carrying her in his arms. The piece reflects the relationship she has built with him as a result of their time creating art together. “The thought [of creating art] came to me when Brian was gone [busy at work],” Reagan explains. Throughout the process, “Brian gave me a chance to use my artist mind.” Reagan reports that inviting Brian to share art therapy and creating art focused on their relationship have been positive and life-changing experiences. “My role is to help Reagan feel comfortable and confident with what she wants to do in art,” Julie says. Art therapy is different from art education, Julie explains, in that the work advances therapeutic goals such as expression, communication, and self confidence. Reagan is one of more than 60 art therapy clients at EC. One of Julie’s main goals is to encourage her artists to take the lead and make their own decisions on what they want their work to look like. She is committed to working alongside her clients as part of the process. “Julie is awesome,” Reagan says. “When I come here, I tell her what [I need her] to do and she helps me. It’s relieving.”
Special needs served by Equestrian Connection in 2013
We treat clients with a variety of special needs and offer rides to their family members as well. Some diagnoses include autism spectrum disorders, multiple sclerosis, emotional disorders, sensory processing disorders, speech and language disorders, behavioral disorders, paralysis, flexibility issues, Alzheimer's, and physical, mental and learning disabilities.