When people think of therapy, most might not think about horses. At HorsePlay Therapy Center in St. Augustine, they use hippotherapy therapy to treat kids facing mental and physical difficulties.
Hippotherapy is the use of horseback riding as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment for physical and mental disabilities.
HorsePlay is the only center of its kind in Northeast Florida. It provides specialists and offers programs in occupational, physical and speech therapy.
"It's all about how the movement of the horse affects the rider," said HorsePlay founder and therapist Vicky Carregal.
The horses help the kids with their confidence, strength and focus through therapeutic techniques, she said.
Three-year-old Eli Campbell has been coming to HorsePlay for a year and a half. He was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a genetic disorder that causes deterioration and weakness in his muscles. His mother Maria Campbell says the progress he's made is life-changing.
When Eli Campbell first started therapy, “he was completely leaning forward, he couldn’t pull himself upright. Now you see him and he’s upright, he’s playing around,” Maria Campbell said.
Carregall originally was inspired to set up HorsePlay after volunteering at another hippotherapy center.
“I became fascinated with the way kids were able to move," Carregal said. "I would watch them, let's say, watch them walk before they got on, and then watch them walk when they got off and such a distinct difference. The quality of movement was so much better."
Therapy can include riding backward or giving voice commands to the horse, which can help the kids work on vocal cues, motor skills and focused attention.
For Eli Campbell, who uses a wheelchair, being outside on the horse makes him feel free. HorsePlay has given Maria Campbell hope for her son's future.
“Even if he’s wheelchair-bound forever, at least he has horse therapy," she said. "At least he’ll have a hobby."
For more information about HorsePlay, click here.