Lynnze Ethridge has known since high school that she wanted to be an occupational therapist. At Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center in McDonald, she’s making that dream a reality. Ethridge …
Lynnze Ethridge has known since high school that she wanted to be an occupational therapist. At Tri-State Therapeutic Riding Center in McDonald, she’s making that dream a reality.
Ethridge came to University of Tennessee in Chattanooga from her hometown in Nashville, where she said her basketball coach and his wife initially inspired her to go into occupational therapy and explore art therapy. She met her match when she started at the Tri-State Therapeutic RIding Center in January as a doctoral student.
“My three biggest passions are animals, art and people with disabilities,” she said. “So this place is perfect for me.”
Tri-State combines the work of therapy with a change of scenery. Specifically working with children with disabilities, Can Do Kids Pediatric Therapy supplies the therapists for children with disabilities and the riding center provides the horses.
On the back of a horse, kids “feel on top of the world,” according to Tara Yelliott, director of the Reinbow Rehabilitation program at Tri-State and Can Do Kids.
“They’re like little kings and queens up there,” she said. “They’re not in a doctor’s office-type setting. They’re riding a horse. And when they’re riding a horse, they don’t even know they’re working.”
Ethridge said hippotherapy, “hippo” being the Latin word for horse, is a method of treatment that helps children of all abilities.
Physically, the movement of the horse with a rider on the back stimulates the neurons and muscles of the rider.
“The rider’s legs moves with the horse’s gait,” Ethridge said. “So for patients with cerebral palsy, where movement and physical stimulation can be a challenge, hippotherapy stimulates those neurons and encourages movement that we otherwise wouldn’t see in a traditional therapy setting.”
Hippotherapy is also a powerful tool to help patients access all levels of stimulus to fit their needs, she said.
“Some kids need that stimulus input from the horse. For others, the horse can fill a sensory need that you couldn’t get with just paint on an easel,” Ethridge said.
A typical session at Tri-State is 30 minutes to an hour long, she said. It can range from doing a walk-and-talk alongside a horse with the patient on back, or grabbing some paint and practicing letters, colors, shapes and handwriting on the horse itself.
In addition, Ethridge has played a key role in redesigning some aspects of Tri-State’s sensory trail, where patients can access stimuli on a quiet trail on property.
She added a sensory tube, which acts as an hourglass to show different colors and textures, a giant abacus and made repairs to the trail’s Plinko board. She said patients can go on the trail to warm up, to focus or relax during a session.
Above all, Ethridge and Yelliott agreed the bond created between patient and animal “is a powerful tool.”
“The most important thing we do here is build confidence,” Yelliott said. “With that confidence, you wouldn’t believe the amazing strides and goals our kids make.”
She added a child with a disability might be used to doctor’s offices, and the change of scenery at Tri-State sets the stage for personal achievement.
“It’s an exciting place to be, for us and them,” she said. “I mean, how many kids can go to school and say they rode a horse last night? It’s a huge boost to their confidence and we love to see it.”
She said hippotherapy not only strikes a bond between horse and patient, but parents may find themselves in a better place too.
“Those bonds that are strained under the stress of having any child are eased when they see the kids hitting their goals here,” she said. “Seeing that, seeing families grow closer together because of what we do here, it’s basically the best part of the job.”
Ethridge described the work she’s doing at Tri-State as her dream job, and said the work with animals and children with disabilities is rewarding from every angle. She said Tri-State “is a gift” and the place she’ll be started her career in the field she’s most passionate about.
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