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Hear from medical professionals

Top doctors and major medical institutions refer clients to Ironstone Farm because of its programs and reputation. 

PETER RAFFALLI, MD, FAAP

Dr. Peter Raffalli Attending physician Child neurology Children's Hospital Boston
Dr. Peter Raffalli
Attending physician
Child neurology
Children’s Hospital Boston

Children’s Hospital Boston attending physician, child neurology

Harvard Medical School, instructor of neurology

Children’s Hospital child neurology physician Peter Raffalli so believes in the therapy at Ironstone Farm that he has done much more than simply refer patients here.

For three years he also spent virtually every Saturday at Ironstone Farm, dressing up as a clown to entertain the children who were receiving therapy.

“Therapeutic riding uses the horse to deliver traditional physical, occupational, and speech therapy in a unique way – providing integration of fine motor, gross motor, speech and sensory integration in one experience,” says Dr. Raffalli.

He first became aware of Ironstone in the mid to late 1990s when patients began telling him “how wonderful the program was and how much their kids seemed to take to therapy on a horse.” He checked out Ironstone Farm himself. Now,  he serves on Ironstone Therapy’s Board of Directors.

“My personal observation is that children with low muscle tone and children with autism spectrum disorder seem to do very well with therapeutic riding. Their parents quite commonly see improvements in truncal tone and endurance, as well as interactions with staff and with their environment,” he says.

As for what makes Ironstone Farm itself so successful he is quick to answer “the people and the horses! Both are so welcoming and genuinely compassionate.”

He says, “Ironstone is convenient to local access roadways but is tucked away enough to be a true oasis. It is a therapeutic environment that is enveloped in nature and the outdoors.”

 
BRIGID GARRY, MPT, CEIS
Master of Physical Therapy
Certified Early Intervention Specialist

“The movement of the horse engages muscles that assist with balance, coordination, and functional mobility. Specific muscle groups are targeted using various positions on the horse including backward sitting, kneeling and quadruped [on all fours].

The landscape, animals and activities at the farm provide a great distraction for these children, most of whom endure many hours per week of therapies.″


“The biggest benefit of equine assisted therapy is the motivation that the horse provides to the patient. The children are willing to challenge themselves in ways that they may not in a home or clinical setting and they are proud of the progress that they make…

“The farm environment is very therapeutic in and of itself. The landscape, animals and activities at the farm provide a great distraction for these children, most of whom endure many hours per week of therapies.

“One little girl with low muscle tone, sensory regulation issues and anxiety comes weekly to Ironstone and, according to her family, is transformed into another child. She is happy, independent, and confident on the horse, unlike when she is at home having difficulty transitioning between activities and separating from mom. They report that the effects of the horse last for days in terms of helping her regulate her sensory system and mood.”

 
BARBARA SMITH, M.S., OTR/L
Author of The Recycling Occupational Therapist 

“Hippotherapy is a tool used by licensed occupational and physical therapy practitioners (and speech and language pathologists) as they utilize the horse’s movement to promote neurobiological changes that in turn promote functional skills.

Repetitive smooth movements reduce muscle tone in the child with cerebral palsy and the fast erratic movements of a trot promotes sensory processing so that the rider with autism is more engaged.”


“For example, repetitive smooth movements reduce muscle tone in the child with cerebral palsy and the fast erratic movements of a trot promotes sensory processing so that the rider with autism is more engaged. Occupational and physical therapists (and assistants) focus on developing postural control, balance and motor planning skills that can be generalized into the client’s daily life-such as improving sitting endurance, ascending/descending bus steps or dressing independently.

“Occupational therapists are especially trained to understand how sensory stimulation impacts learning and developing sensory motor skills. The sensory qualities of a horse and farm, the emotional bond between horse and rider and ‘just right’ challenges all contribute to therapeutic success.”

 

KIM MURPHY

Physical Therapist

Therapist Kim Murphy works with a young Ironstone Therapy client at the Andover horse farm.
Therapist Kim Murphy works with a young Ironstone Therapy client at the Andover horse farm.

“Hippotherapy is a chosen treatment option by some therapists because of the horse’s unique ability to provide exactly what a child needs in order to achieve functional goals. Although it is the therapist and support volunteers who work together to vary the horse’s gait and direction, and the child’s position and activities, it is the horse and horse’s movement that most greatly influences the therapeutic outcomes.

“The horse can provide warmth and slow, rhythmic movement to help decrease tone and spacticity; or a more variable, concussive sensory input to help increase tone. The horse can be calming and motivational for those with anxiety and positional or sensory insecurities; or stimulating, with tactile and vestibular input for increased alertness, attention, and interaction.

“Once the proper mental or physical state is maximized, the three dimensional, reciprocal, rhythmic and repetitive movement of the horse allows the child to experience a normalized pelvic mobility mimicking the human gait cycle while moving through space, which improves stability, strength and balance for all children.

“Physical therapy on horse back is mainly focused on addressing gross motor ability, such as sitting, standing and walking. But the benefits easily cross over into improved respiration, communication, visual and auditory attention, self-esteem and self-confidence, and sensory integration… to name a few.

“And not only does hippotherapy provide all of that – but it also allows a child to engage in their most important job: to play and have fun.”