Making Milwaukee Great - Helping Hands Healing Hooves

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by Stephanie Brown

Seven year old Jacob Borkin was born with Down Syndrome. At the age of three when all the other children around him had mastered walking Jacob's mother was concerned he had not.

"You just want to cry because you feel bad and you dont know how to help him," says Madeline Borkin Jacob's mother.

Luckily Madeline lived near Black Star Farm in Cedarburg. She heard about their Helping Hands Healing Hooves program.

It's a non-profit therapeutic equine assisted riding program, servicing individuals of all ages with special needs to help develop their full potential.

"I worked with horses almost all of my adult life and I'm still amazed on almost a daily basis on how the horses come to the particular clients needs," says Debbie Goelz owner the farm.

Helping Hands Healing Hooves works with almost all cognitive, physical and or emotional disabilities. Certified trained volunteers work closely with each client for one-hour riding lessons.

The lessons include grooming, tacking the horse with the saddle and bridle, riding the horse, and developmental activities incorporated while on the horse.

"We strive to create a unique environment where individuals can have the freedom to develop knowledge, trust, hope, and determination," says Goelz.

In the four years Jacob has been coming he's progressed by leaps and bounds.
 
"Literally within weeks he was able to walk and within months able to go up and downstairs, says Jacob's mother Madeline.

She says not only does Jacob enjoy riding horses, but his enhanced confidence and skill level has contributed to his progress in school.

"In addition to gross motor skills they also work on fine motor skills and speech," says Madeline.

It takes a special horse to be a therapy horse. Helping Hands Healing Hooves has nearly a dozen specialized for therapeutic riding. Goelz says the horses three dimensional movements closely match that of a human's gait.

"Remarkable progress can be seen in balance, range of motion and muscle strength, adds Goelz.

The farm is run by Goelz and her family. The program sustains itself through donations and volunteers, but Goelz says it's no easy feet. Each client visit requires at least three trained therapist. Scheduling times and coordinating visits is time consuming requiring a lot of administrative hours. But equally if not more pressing is the money it takes to care for the horses.

"They eat a whole lot of hay. The price has more than tripled in the last year," says Goelz.

There are a few key annual fundraiser she relies on, but sadly Deb is forced to contribute much of her own personal funds to keep things going.

"It's a huge puzzle and there's a lot of pieces that have to fit," she says.

Goelz is always looking for volunteers and hoping for donations. She drives people to the Helping Hands Healing Hooves website where those who would like to help change the lives of special needs kids and adults can contribute in some way.

"I've seen kids that couldn't speak suddenly have the ability to speak just by riding. I've seen kids that will always be in a wheelchair have the ability to get out of that wheelchair," says Jacob's mother Madeline.

She says at first she was skeptical about putting her child on a horse, but with all the precautions they take and seeing progress almost immediately she says her Jacob would not be where he is without this program.

 

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