While multiple sclerosis has forced Tracy Galloway, 35, to use a wheelchair, when she's with Taxi, she almost feels like she's walking again.
By Jacqueline J.
April 10, 2001
"On my first day here, they had to hold me on the horse," Galloway said. "It felt like I was riding on a concrete block. Now I can feel the muscles working. The way he moves, moves my hips, pelvis and legs as if I were walking."
Galloway, a resident of Stockbridge, is part of a pilot recreational therapy program at the Calvin Center, a retreat center and camping site, in Hampton. Through the program, women with multiple sclerosis take horse-riding lessons each Saturday. Cathy McKinnon of Jonesboro is the founder of the program and trains the women.
McKinnon, who is certified to train riders with disabilities, is a member of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, which promotes recreational therapy through equine activities for people with disabilities. In the case of people with multiple sclerosis, horses are said to move their muscles in ways that mimic walking. The movement strengthens their muscles, McKinnon said.
The program began in March with three women including Galloway, McDonough resident Pat Windham, 51, and Amy Owens, 33, of Hapeville.
Saturday was the first time the weather was so hot with 80-degree temperatures, which makes it harder for people with multiple sclerosis to function, McKinnon said.
Galloway seemed to be the one most affected by the heat.
She spent much of the time trying to balance herself in her saddle.
"You are square," McKinnon said. "Think in two small increments - forward and then re-balance."
As she followed McKinnon's commands, Galloway tried to smile, but kept clenching her teeth. Volunteers helped to balance her in the saddle. Each woman has several volunteers working with them to help guide them on the horses.
One of the volunteers Brandee Tabacchi said that while Galloway had trouble on Saturday, she has seen a big difference in her muscular strength since she's been in the program.
"When she first started,
she had almost no muscles in her back," said Tabbachi, who helps to support
Galloway's back when she's on Taxi.
"She had almost nothing in her, no support. But her muscles have really increased."
"I'm usually able to hold myself upright in the saddle," Galloway said, who rode horses before she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1985. "But I've had a stressful week, and the heat was a big factor."
Windham, who walks with a cane, has lost much of the feeling in her legs, but she said she has progressed in the time she's been in the program.
"Well, since the third week I've been in the program, I have begun feeling my muscles make contact," Windham said. "I can feel my legs embracing the horse. I had a sensation like I was on a spinning top. I still don't feel my feet yet though."
Owens said the program has also helped her in a similar way, but she also appreciates other aspects of the program.
"It just feels good," Owens said. "I've never ridden a horse before, and it's nice to be out in nature."
McKinnon, who retired last year after having been in the education field for 30 years, said the program was created by happenstance.
"I was out here last April for a small church conference, and I met the new executive director of the Calvin Center," she said. "I asked him if they had a horseback riding program. He said they did in the past, but he wanted to start a year-round program so I wrote a proposal to the Atlanta Presbytery to start a program."
This program will end in May, and McKinnon hopes to offer two other courses during the year.
"In the future, I hope to offer the program in Henry, Fayette and Spalding Counties," McKinnon said.
©The News Daily 2001