Published on August 22nd, 2013 | by Kathy Browning0
Rendezvous Ranch: A Place of Healing for Children
Tucked away down a winding road in Edgewater is a place known as Rendezvous Ranch. It’s a magical setting that’s peaceful and quiet with peacocks sitting on fence posts and ducks waddling around. There’s a picturesque horse barn, outdoor arena, riding trail and fishpond.
Many would consider Rendezvous Ranch an ideal place to get away from it all and forget their worries. In a sense, that’s what it offers, only on a different level. This ranch isn’t your typical retreat. Instead, it’s a place of healing for children with disabilities and their parents.
The six-acre ranch is an extension of Children’s Therapy Network at 1600 S. Ridgewood in Edgewater, FL. It offers a holistic approach to helping children strengthen communication, socialization and transitional skills using a modality known as Hippotherapy.
Director, Gina Johnson took me on a tour of the facility to observe the various equine therapy treatments provided. We began at the gate where we were met by siblings, Madyson and Michael Lewis. They were donning a helmet as part of the strict safety protocol.
“Along with practicing safety, putting on a helmet helps kids develop their motor skills,” explains Johnson. “Everything about our program benefits the child and provides life skills they can use in their natural environment.”
As we enter the barn, Gina introduces me to Little Joe; a miniature pony who plays a huge role in the Hippotherapy program. As Joey is led to the pasture, 5-year-old August Rayne is preparing to begin her equine therapy session.
Two therapists hold August Rayne’s hands as they pass through the gate. Her parents, Tracy and Jeremy Allen, stand at the fence in anticipation of further advancements. This is their second Hippotherapy session, but their daughter has been with Children’s Therapy Network since March 2013. Their pediatrician referred them to CTN after recognizing developmental delays.
“Our daughter has gained a lot of confidence since she’s been here,” states Tracy Allen. “She can spell her name and count now. She recognizes letters and is better able to focus on writing. We can’t say enough good things about Gina and the work she is doing here.”
Kids start out in the CTN clinic and undergo a series of tests to evaluate motor, communication and social skills, and to determine deficits. From there, therapists can build upon each child’s strengths and develop steps for progress.
“The main focus is practicing life skills which help kids transition,” states Johnson. “We have kids with various disabilities including physical, learning, communication and spectrum. They need to be able to transition within their natural environment, so I feel it’s better to provide therapeutic services in contact with the environment.”
What’s different about Hippotherapy from other forms of treatments is the horse’s movements mimic the human gait and helps facilitate pelvic movement and postural awareness.
“We’ve seen amazing things happen to kids with cerebral palsy through Hippotherapy,” proclaims Johnson. “The most major change we notice is with their posture. They are able to sit more erect because they engage their abdominal and back muscles.”
A great example of erect posture is displayed by Chelsea Johnson (pictured below) in the riding arena.
A petite and fit teenager, Chelsea sits in the therapeutic riding saddle atop Max – backwards. Not only can she ride Max around the arena and weave through vertical poles, she can also catch a ball at the same time.
Chelsea’s parents, Arthur and Laurie Johnson, are pleased with the progress their daughter has made. “This has been a real confidence booster for Chelsea,” says her dad. “When she first began she had serious gait issues which affected her balance. She struggled with manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Now she can catch a ball while riding a horse backwards.”
Diagnosed with autism eight years ago, the Johnson’s have tried many therapies for their daughter. “Gina and her staff have been working with Chelsea for the past two years in the clinic and ranch,” says Laurie Johnson. “Of all the therapies, Children’s Therapy Network is the best and Hippotherapy is working.”
Some people might be concerned about the safety of Hippotherapy due to having direct contact with horses. However, parents soon discover that Rendezvous Ranch provides the utmost in safety procedures.
Along with fitting children with helmets and saddles, Hippotherapy is a team effort that includes two side walkers and a horse leader who is a therapeutic riding instructor. Sometimes a person walks behind the horse to help facilitate the child.
Hippotherapy and therapeutic riding sessions let Gina and her staff work with kids in a natural environment. They have adaptive equipment, such as saddles, for every type of disability.
Rendezvous Ranch barn manager, Amy Hall is responsible for training and working the horses. She and all CTN therapists and horses have undergone extensive training in accordance with the American Hippotherapy Association.
“I don’t have to worry if the horse is going to run or be distracted by something because Amy is trained to handle the horse,” states Johnson. “If she says something isn’t right, then we will end the session.”
Many of the kids return to the camp each year. Most transition from the clinic to equine therapy. Once they complete Hippotherapy, they progress to therapeutic riding and learn how to ride a horse.
“We like to put FUN into functionality and the benefits have been tremendous,” proclaims Johnson. “It’s important for us to provide an environment for the kids that help facilitate and foster growth regardless of the disability they have. By focusing on their strengths we can enhance their ability and independence.”
The benefits of Hippotherapy and therapeutic riding are plentiful. Studies have shown marked improvement in postural awareness, cognition, problem-solving skills, motor skills, muscle tone, endurance, sensory processing, social skills and self-confidence.
While Children’s Therapy Network primarily works with children from 2-1/2 to 21 years of age, they occasionally work with adults. Regardless of age or type of therapy required, services are only provided through physician referrals.
Children’s Therapy Network
Gina Johnson, Director
1600 S. Ridgewood Avenue
Edgewater, FL 32132
All photos below were taken by Kelsey Arnold: