November 25, 2001
By KEVIN PLUNKETT, Staff Writer
Lois Matthews has been riding horses with joy at Thorncroft Equestrian Center for about 15 years. Today Mathews rides Sadie, a jet black part Percheron, without assistance.
Matthews, of Malvern, has multiple sclerosis and got her start riding with help from what she says are Thorncroft's wonderful therapeutic riding instructors as an outpatient of Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Center in Willistown.
Today she is very upset at the hospital's decision to eliminate or cut back on a program she refers to as a "miracle of love" -- its equestrian program for disabled inpatients at Thorncroft.
Last week Bryn Mawr told Thorncroft it was scrubbing the inpatient aspect of its roughly 18-year-old alliance in order to save costs and because hospital therapists insist patients can receive just as valuable therapy at Bryn Mawr.
"I don't want this magic to die. It is far too important to our community," Matthews said. "There are plenty of places that children can ride. Thorncroft offers the only adult riding program for the disabled in a big distance" said Matthews. "So the loss (for) adults that didn't ask to have strokes or have traumas or lose a leg or limb" is tremendous.
"Without four good legs being underneath you, how else can you walk in the woods?" Mathews asked.
Bryn Mawr transports patients by van to Thorncroft, located about a mile from the hospital at Line and Boot roads in Willistown, and provides a physical therapist at a cost of about $43,000 to $45,000 annually, according to Pat Ryan, senior vice president.
Founded in 1969, the nonprofit Thorncroft hosts one of the foremost therapeutic riding programs in the country. About 200 disabled riders receive therapy such as balance exercise and muscle stimulation at the center weekly.
Of these, about 13 students, split about equally between in and outpatients, typically arrive weekly from Bryn Mawr Rehab. The inpatient program might be the only one of its kind on the east coast, according to Dottie Haffner, Thorncroft's office manager and a therapeutic riding instructor.
Haffner has worked with the Bryn Mawr program for 13 years. She thinks Bryn Mawr's decision is shortsighted and insists the equestrain therapy is more than just physical.
"There is something that happens on the back of a horse that is impossible to duplicate in the gym," Haffner said.
"We have talked to a number of patients and they all feel that it is very much a shame," she said. "We have (several) clients who are still riding with us that began with the Bryn Mawr program, folks who went through the rehab because of an injury or because of a stroke or because they have a condition like MS. We have many people who are willing to stand up and be counted because of the great benefits that they receive from doing this," said Haffner.
Thorncroft Director Saunders Dixon agreed.
"When you are on a horse you are in continual motion provided by the movement of the horse and your body is working that whole time. We have done research with the University of Delaware that show the emotions of a person sitting on a horse that is walking are almost the same as a person walking. Whether the student has had a stroke or cerebral palsy, we can re-create the motion of walking by putting them on a horse," Dixon said.
Ryan said that staff physicians believe the hospital has alternative therapies including a therapeutic ball and bolstersthat will achieve the "same great patient outcome" while saving costs as well as freeing up the hospital van for other needs like transporting patients for things like dialysis. She said the clinical discussion came before financial considerations.
Bryn Mawr Rehab is financially sound, Ryan acknowledged, and is not cutting back any other programs. "We are just being a proactive management team," she said. "But do I look at all programs and all services to improve on the way we manage our expenses? Every day," she said. "But any time we look at a program or expense item it is a decision we don't take lightly and we always do with hesitation and careful consideration."
Ryan noted she has managed 15 rehabilitation hospitals and Bryn Mawr is the first with an equestrian program. "So when you add all these things up and you say we could have the same patient outcome in house -- then why go outside?" she asked.
Ryan suggested the inpatient program might not be eliminated entirely, but pared back to a much more narrowly focuses program.
Matthews said she and other former Thorncroft students just want Bryn Mawr Rehab to understand just how wonderful riding a horse can be for the disabled.
"We want to make them aware of what
they are taking away from the community," she said.
©Daily Local News 2001
©Daily Local News 2001