REHOBOTH, Mass. (WPRI) — “This is one of her favorite parts of the week, without question,” Jaelle Laplante said.
Jaelle’s daughter, Declynn, sat astride Marty, one of the horses who works with hundreds of local children battling medical odds through the Greenlock Therapeutic Riding Center of Rehoboth.
The girl with the purple riding helmet, elated grin and ponytail was just an infant when she was diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by low muscle tone, feeding difficulties, and growth problems.
“Overwhelming is an understatement,” Jaelle said on a recent afternoon at the center. “When you have a three-week-old kid who gets a diagnosis like that, you’re thrown into a whole different world of parenting.”
You can’t see any of those difficulties on Declynn’s face when she’s riding, though. And Jaelle says riding has brought her strength and grown her abilities.
“When we started here just two years ago, Declynn was minimally walking. She would maybe take ten to fifteen steps and as you can see now, she’s running all over the place,” she said.
As Declynn rides, she has a spotter on each side of her, guiding the therapy. As Marty trots, they encourage her: “Can you put your arms out and be an airplane?” It’s the added complexity that helps her grow her core, upper body, and hand-eye coordination. The method is called “hippotherapy.”
“Remember, you can put your hands on Marty to help you balance,” they coach.
And then, Declynn tries her hand at some circus acrobatics. They help her maneuver into standing on Marty’s back.
The Greenlock Therapeutic Riding Center is the brainchild of Sheila Greenbaum and Edith Wislocki. Both riding partners had a background in special education, and they started the nonprofit back in 1989. Now, they serve some two hundred clients weekly.
Horses like Marty are chosen based on their build, the symmetry of their movement and their temperament, but then they receive a lot of training at the center.
Declynn’s experience at Greenlock has been invaluable, according to Jaelle.
“It’s been so instrumental in getting her to be successful in walking and running, and jumping, and communicating,” she said. “In creating those meaningful bonds—even the bonds with the volunteers and the lasting friendships with other kids who come here—it’s so important.”