Every week, for one hour, Kirkland’s Sue Lamoree trades her electric wheelchair for a seat on Molly’s back. Molly is a horse at Redmond’s Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, where Sue has been riding for 14 years, since she was first diagnosed.
“It’s called transverse myelitis, it’s a lesion on my C5. I’m affected from my neck down. My legs don’t work at all anymore.”
But riding a horse at Little Bit helps bring her body back to life.
“Very beneficial for my core strength. It’s beneficial for my entire body, actually, because I’m really stiff, my muscles are. So my legs get a good stretch.”
The 20, four legged therapists at Little Bit serve more than 200 riders a week, riders who live with over 70 different disabilities.
“It includes individuals on the autism spectrum, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, cognitive behavioral disorders,” says Little Bit’s Community Relations Specialist, Lindsey Peterson.
Lindsey took me past the stables and outside to a fenced-in pasture where Blaze was taking a sunny, mid-morning nap. Blaze is Little Bit’s most recent addition, a former police horse donated by the Seattle Police Department.
“Blaze was with the SPD for eight years and it got to a point where spending eight hours a day on the cement was just too much for Blaze. He was starting to have some health problems. But they knew he wasn’t ready to retire and just be a pasture pet and they were looking for something new. So they learned about Little Bit, got in touch with us and it was a perfect match.”
Blaze fit all the criteria that Little Bit requires.
“It takes a very special horse to be a four legged therapist. So we’re looking for horses who have a really reliable nature, who are really calm and patient, who can handle a lot of stimuli and a lot of different people every day.”
Executive director Kathy Alm says the horses do amazing things for the disabled children and adults who ride them.
“When a horse moves forward, it moves in the same three-dimensional pattern as when you or I are walking. So somebody who doesn’t have those core muscles, they get put on the back of a horse, the horse works those muscles for them and also does something called muscle memory, reminding those muscles what they’re supposed to be doing. But there’s also a huge self confidence and boost of self esteem. Imagine if you’re in a wheelchair and the majority of your life is controlled by other people. They have to help you dress. They have to help you brush your teeth. We help you get on the back of a horse and you’re in control of a 1,000 pound animal. It goes when you say, it stops when you say. The whole world opens up to you.”
While a horse named Katanga munched on a carrot, Lindsey told me the miraculous changes she’s seen in kids.
“One of the patients I volunteered with, when he started, he had a vocabulary of 19 words. After riding for 6 months, he had a vocabulary of 236 words. His favorite word was Blondie, the name of his horse.”
Recently, Sue has had her own breakthrough.
“Just in the last six months, for some reason, a miracle, I ended up being able to sit up and use the reigns,” said Sue. “Fourteen years later, I’ve made some baby steps along the way, but that was kind of one of my biggest goals. The day that it happened I was just like, ‘It’s a miracle!'”
Sue wasn’t a horse or an animal person before coming to Little Bit, but a horse named Murphy changed all that.
“When I was riding Murphy, he would hear my wheelchair. He would be at the corner of his stall waiting for me. He had certain people that he especially was fond of and I was part of his inner circle.”
Right now, Little Bit has a two year waiting list but…
“We finally were able to move into this beautiful new facility. Eventually we’re going to be serving 500 individuals a week and we’ll reduce that waiting list down to two or three months. So we’re really excited for that.”
But they’ll need even more volunteers. If you want to spend some time at this beautiful property, with the horses, click here for more information.