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The healing power of horses at WindReach

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The horse doctor: Alyssa Frick uses horses to treat people suffering from everything from dementia to traumatic brain injuries

What matters to you?

It’s a question Alyssa Frick frequently asks her clients.

“This idea of focusing on the whole person and what they needed to do was really what struck a chord with me,” the occupational therapist said.

“I didn’t want to spend my career focusing on how many exercises someone could do, but how we could help them get washed and dressed independently.”

The programme she started at WindReach last November was designed with that in mind. The 27-year-old uses horses to treat people suffering from everything from dementia to traumatic brain injuries such as stroke, as well as accident-related trauma.

Classes start with gentle stretching, the group then moves on to grooming the horses and light stable chores She believes it’s the only programme on the island to specifically target stroke or dementia.

The idea came from a patient suffering from aphasia — an inability to communicate brought on by brain damage — following a stroke.

“It’s been great for her to talk to the horse,” Mrs Frick said, explaining that it gave the woman courage to speak without fearing she’d be misunderstood.

“She was really struggling with therapy, where it would be the same thing over and over again. Although it was helpful, evidence-based and very important for her, it was really boring for her.

“She has really improved her walking and overall endurance. When we first started working together she wasn’t able to tie her shoes, and just two weeks ago she was able to tie them independently.

“I created the programme around that experience.”

The next course begins February 17 and will run for eight weeks.

“The premise of it is to get people to be doing a meaningful activity that allows them to see that their exercises and movement have a purpose, instead of your average exercise class or therapy in a hospital room moving cones from one place to another,” she said.

“It’s really trying to create an atmosphere of enjoyment with animals in a relaxing space as well as working on different skills — lots of standing, lots of moving, working with balance.”

Mrs Frick started at WindReach Recreational Village in June, after finishing her occupational therapy degree at McMaster University in Ontario.

“I did my last placement here and really loved the atmosphere and their mission, so when a position became available I jumped on it,” she said.

A student placement at Canada’s West Lincoln Memorial Hospital helped her find her calling.

“Whether it’s physical, cognitive, on the mental health side or on the support side, the great thing about occupational therapy is you can come from any angle and help them solve their problems,” she said.

“I can work on someone’s ability to shower, but I can also work on their ability to drive. It’s a really great career.”

The specialist is taking an animal-assisted therapy course online to further her knowledge.

“I’d only ever had rabbits as a child. Taking care of horses wasn’t something that came natural to me. It was a big learning curve.

“I’ve grown to see their value and how good they can be for people with disabilities and people in general.”

Her biggest challenge has been getting people to the Warwick site.

“Many more would love to be involved, but have difficulty reaching the facility,” she said.

“Especially our young adults with disabilities — either they’re not able to pay for transit or they are not able to access the bus system.

“It’s been highlighted in [the media] that there has been a lack of opportunities in the community as far as programmes for people with dementia, so we thought of this programme to try and help with that need. We really hope that this can be an option for people who are really looking to get more involved and find something that is accessible for them and their family members. Dementia [especially], can be very difficult for everyone involved. Like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to help support someone with dementia.”

To donate to the programme contact Tammalita Astwood: 238-2469, tastwood@windreach.bm, www.windreachbermuda.bm

Positive contact: Alyssa Frick and Cornell Bailey grooming Tilly