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'What An Amazing Creature': Equine Therapy Helps A Cerebral Palsy Patient

Hannah Fouche rides a horse in Ocala with the assistance of a volunteer. (Danielle Prinz/WUFT News)
Hannah Fouche rides a horse in Ocala with the assistance of a volunteer. (Danielle Prinz/WUFT News)

Horse races, jockeys and wide-brimmed hats may come to mind when one thinks of Ocala, the Horse Capitol of the World.

For a mother, Vicki Fouche, when she thinks about living in the middle of Ocala, her thoughts are far from the Kentucky Derby.

Her mind is on equine therapy.

“Every little girl has that preconceived notion of ‘I want a pony,'" Fouche said.

Her 7-year-old daughter Hannah doesn't just want a pony. She needs one.

Before Hannah began using a pony to help her overcome cerebral palsy symptoms, her mother said she was skeptical.

“At first I thought, 'It’s a horse. What can it do?'” Vicki Fouche said.

Her youngest daughter’s horseback-riding trainer suggested equine therapy to help strengthen Hannah’s core.

Since that suggestion two years ago, ponies are Hannah's tool. Volunteers with Marion Therapeutic Riding Association help prop her up on Snowflake.

For one hour each Saturday, they help Hannah maneuver a simple obstacle course.

Hannah’s physical therapist, Tricia Steffey, said riding a horse mimics walking Hannah does at physical therapy.

“It’s one side of the pelvis moving forward while the other stays back and then the other side moving forward while the other stays back.”

A hallway in their home is one way for the family to see Hannah’s progress.

Vicki holds Hannah’s hand, now giving her minimal support as she makes her way down the hallway.

“Usually her knees would buckle and she fall pretty easily, but now she can stand and walk pretty well with just giving her little assistance,” Vicki said.

Conquering the hallway and sitting up by herself on a horse are two milestones for which Hannah and her mother thank equine therapy.

“When you see your child doing something you didn’t think they could do. Or you thought that’s out of reach for her... That’s when you get a little bot of the waterworks going on. And you look at that magnificent horse and you think, 'What an amazing creature.'"


Danielle is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.