In 1995, our son, Reilly was diagnosed with hypotonia (low muscle tone). At the time of diagnosis, he was only eight months of age. The problem caused him to be late sitting up and walking. It required him to undergo physical therapy at an extremely early age. He also eventually needed therapy for moderately delayed speech and language. Our son was fortunate to have a dedicated and caring physical therapist, but after two and a half years inside a therapy room, we all knew that he desperately needed a change from the monotonous exercises performed during his biweekly sessions.
I decided to enroll Reilly in gymnastics. Once a week we made the the trip from our home to his class. He loved the activity but it was evident that he needed even more exercise. I thought it would be a good idea to vary his activities, so I began my search for alternatives.
One day we rented "Horse" (a BBC children's documentary). He watched that video again, and again, and again. It seemed as through we watched that crazy thing at least 100 times before it had to be retumed to the library (probably worn out). I was amazed at the keen interest that he showed in the horses. I remembered growing up and riding horses on my uncle's farm in rural Georgia. I could remember the pleasure and confidence that it had given me as a child. I had read about therapeutic horseback riding and wondered if such an activity could help someone as young as three years old.
I found Circle of Hope in 1998. The name intrigued me. I placed my first call on a Sunday. I had expected to get voice mail and was surprised to hear a confident, friendly, real voice on the line. Of all of the organizations that I investigated I found Circle of Hope to be the most open, encouraging, honest, and professional. We visited with the instructor and filled out the necessary paperwork. Reilly and I couldn't wait to begin.
Reilly met Madeline in April of 1998. After one walk around the arena on her warm, brown back he was hooked. Although my little boy hardly said a word to the teacher and volunteers, and you could barely hear him say, "Walk on, Madeline." I knew in my heart that it was a great match. After only seven months of riding, Circle of Hope helped improve Reilly's physical abilities and has provided an exponential boost in confidence and speech. In particular his balance, coordination, and muscle strength have vastly improved. Reilly can trot, is using reins, and is leaminig to post. He now negotiates with his teacher about when he can trot his pony. My sincere thanks goes to Reilly's instructor, the volunteers, and to all of the other people and donors who help make this program possible. All of these people have helped give my son a firm foundation which he can build upon for the reminder of his life. The kindness and commitment of everyone involved in this program has meant a great deal to our family.
And by the way... when I ask Reilly why he likes to ride at Circle of Hope, he readily responds: I love to trot. I love the balls...and I love to put the clips in Lesly's hair."
Update: Reilly has accomplished enough of his therapy goals to be able to leave Circle of Hope. He is currently pursuing his love of horses at a public stable near his home.