A child taking his or her first steps is a milestone for any family. But a 4-year-old boy named Diego never had that opportunity due to developmental delays and epilepsy, which greatly impede his balance and leg mobility. Yvonne and Christopher Sanchez, Diego's parents, brought Diego to a handful of hospitals, where he was prescribed a slew of different treatments, from aqua therapy to physical therapy to occupational therapy. Nothing seemed to work, until one doctor recommended hippotherapy, also known as horse therapy.
Diego was paired with a horse named Big Red, and in a little more than four months of riding, the boy learned how to walk.
"Diego could not move on his own in a normal fashion. The horse's hips translate into the human hips what you should be doing if you could move in a normal fashion," Saddle Light Center executive director and therapist Kerstin Fosdick told ABC news affiliate KSAT-12. "It goes up to the sensory cortex of the brain, and then it translates into the motor cortex for the movement, and then it comes down with the movement in response to the sensory input. Now the muscles are awakened because they have the correct information."
Now, Diego can walk with assistance of his parents and sit up entirely on his own. What's more, hippotherapy has decreased the number of seizures he experiences and reduced his medication amounts. In a video accompanying the article, the 4-year-old is seen taking small steps across a room with his father guiding him, a smile brightening the little boy's face.
Battling diseases one step at a time
Horse therapy has been growing in popularity across the country over the past couple of decades. The treatment helps address a wide variety of diagnoses, such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, developmental delays, social or communication delays, brain or spinal cord injuries and genetic disorders. In Diego's case, it would help him battle the seizures brought on by epilepsy.
"They told us in the beginning that he wasn't going to be able to do it, so it just means so much to us," Yvonne Sanchez told the source. "A lot of our holidays in the beginning were spent in the hospital, so this is just what I've been praying for."
As horse trainers know, some equines are bred for racing as well as a range of other sports. But it's with every stride from Big Red that Diego strengthens his own muscles and learns how to power his small yet monumental movements, each and every day.