Therapy program seeking new home |

Therapy program seeking new home

by Sheila Gardner

It’s called “hippotherapy,” but it’s all about horses. And to children like Sami Jo Kuhn of Reno, the program has given her mobility and strength she has never experienced in her nine years.

Most Saturdays for the past 18 months, Sami Jo’s parents, Lorenz and Jolene Kuhn, have driven their daughter from Reno to the Kids & Horses facility in Johnson Lane where Kyle Hamilton offers hippotherapy.

For Sami Jo, born blind and with cerebral palsy, the skills she’s learned have improved her quality of life.

But the program ended Dec. 18 until Hamilton can find funding and a new location. The Kids & Horses therapeutic program will continue.

Hamilton explained that hippotherapy is the use of the three dimensional movement of the horse to improve balance, coordination and strength in the rider.

“It’s almost like a human walk,” she said. “The horse moves backward, forward and side-to-side. For a child who’s never been able to walk, the horse can give them that experience – the rhythm and timing of walking.”

Sami Jo weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces when she was born at 22 weeks’ gestation, about half of a full-term pregnancy.

Since she’s participated in hippotherapy, her parents have noticed improvement.

“She loves it,” her father said. “She looks forward to it all week. She’s been getting stronger and getting better trunk control.”

Kuhn said he hopes Hamilton finds a new location.

“I have a child with special needs and have seen how much she has prospered and grown with therapy and how much more she gained from horse therapy,” he said.

He said he and his wife had not yet informed Sami Jo the class was over.

“We’re going to tell her it’s her last ride,” he said.

Kuhn said he didn’t mind the drive or the Saturdays devoted to hippotherapy.

“It’s my daughter,” he said. “For a child who can’t walk, crawl, or sit on her own, it’s something she can do. I would drive her to L.A. every day if I had to.”

Hamilton said a difference between hippotheray and therapeutic riding is that specific riding skills are not taught.

“The horse’s walk provides input to help the child with balance, strengthening and coordination to carry over to daily activities and walking,” Hamilton said.

She said her young clients love the sessions.

“No child every wants to miss therapy,” she said. “You’re constantly working when you’re sitting up there. If your muscles aren’t working, you would fall off.

“I am noticing this muscular change,” she said. “A lot of kids are more animated, more self-confident. They’ve always been last, never chosen for games. Suddenly, they’re riding a horse. It’s pretty cool in their peers’ eyes.”

Hamilton has several volunteers who help with the sessions.

Horse handlers include Lois Butler of Dayton and Eleanor Hutchinson of Carson City. Bob Vogelpohl, whom she refers to as “Bob the Builder,” also does graphics and designed their brochure.

Vickie Cracchiolo of Fredericksburg is a board-certified pediatric physical therapist with neuro-developmental training.

Hamilton left her job with the state department of rehabilitation to create the program in June 2003.

She also has extensive neuro-developmental training and took courses at the National Center for Equine-Facilitated Therapy in Woodside, Calif.

She has been licensed as a physical therapist since 1985 and began practicing in California, moving to Northern Nevada in 1990.

She is a lifelong horsewoman and is a member of the American Hippotherapy Association and the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

“I just hope that someone out there would come out and see how beneficial this program is to children and give us a new home,” Kuhn said. “There are kids out there who truly, truly need this type of therapy.”

Hamilton said the program benefits children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or people who have suffered strokes or experienced developmental delay.

“We’re looking for new place and a horse we could lease or borrow for about six hours a week,” Hamilton said.

She would be willing to relocate the hippotherapy program to a facility in Washoe Valley or Carson City. Her clients come from as far away as Bishop, Calif.

Hamilton also collects used tack to sell at the Douglas County Mounted Posse’s annual sale.

For information or to make a donation, Hamilton can be reached at 267-4468.


Kyle Hamilton is looking for a new location for her hippotherapy program that enables riders who may not be able to walk to improve balance, coordination and strength. She also is looking for donations of used tack to be sold at the Douglas County Mounted Posse’s annual tack sale to raise funds for the program. Hamilton can be reached at 267-4468.


American Hippotherapy Association

— Sheila Gardner can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 214.