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“Your child will never walk.”


No mother would want to hear this, but for Zander’s mother Krystal Saddison, it was something she heard regularly. Zander’s “super power" is Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, a genetic disorder best explained as a car manual missing a few hundred pages in the middle.


Unfortunately, these missing pages affect Zander’s ability to walk unsupported. Therapy session after therapy session, nothing worked for Zander and in fact, he was permanently discharged from physical therapy. But not so fast.


One therapist asked Krystal if she heard of Northern Michigan Equine Therapy (NMET). Krystal learned that occupational therapist, Courtney Sumpter, had a hippotherapy program that could help strengthen the muscles Zander needed to walk on his own. After successfully exhausting all other options, Krystal gave equine therapy a try. 


Zander’s life changed after first walking through NMET’s barn door. His immediate bond with “Adele” (therapy horse) became unbreakable. Zander’s face becomes brighter and brighter after each step he and his mom make together down the barn’s aisleway. After a quick pat on Adele’s nose, Zander sinks into his therapy saddle, and his session begins. 


“What is unique about this form of therapy is Zander has no idea he is working. His muscles are working really hard,” state Occupational Therapist and Founder Courtney Sumpter. “A horse’s natural walk mimics humans, so with each step, Zander’s hip muscles are working.”


Dreams came true on Zander's fifth birthday. After just his 8th session, Zander’s mom watched him take his first three steps in his life. Tears rolled down Krystal’s face as Zander landed in her arms. As tears rolled for the NMET team as well, they knew this would be a day they will never forget.


Today, he can walk 50ft independently to ride his horse, Adele.



“At 4 years old, we didn't think she would
be able to do half the things she does now.”


“Courtney does such an amazing job helping to serve all of those across Northern Michigan. Paisley has been participating in equine occupational therapy with Ms. Courtney since she turned 4, and that is a key factor in how and why Paisley has been able to do the wonderful things that you see her do. At 4 years old, we didn’t think she would be able to do half of things she does now; how many Hockey playing ballerinas do you know that have a sensory diagnosis? Now we can barely keep up with her busy schedule!!! Courtney was instrumental in getting Paisley to be comfortable with her body, with herself, and with other people. The bonds that Paisley has made with the staff and horses at NMET will last my daughter a lifetime.  NMET is a safe haven for people across the board”


- Andrea Kirkby (Paisley's Mom)



“Simply the most effective therapy he has ever received.


Meet Liam, he is a young gentleman that has severe Cerebral Palsy with hip dysplasia. Liam requires assistance with all activities of daily living. As you can imagine, he has gone through several different forms of therapy. “From out-patient to botox, Liam’s been through many styles of treatment, but we have never experienced anything like hippotherapy," states Kayla, Liam’s mother.


Therapy at NMET with his occupational therapist and horse, Adele, give Liam an opportunity to participate in an activity that is alternative to typical therapy sessions. While riding, Liam gains strength, balance, trunk and head control and most importantly brings him joy! His smile on his face while riding his horse says it all!


“Being on the horse perfectly mimics the way his hips need to be placed in his brace. This type of therapy makes such a huge difference in his posture. In only a short time, Liam is holding his head up, and his trunk support is excellent. Simply the most effective therapy he has ever received,” adds Kayla.

**On November 11th, 2021 Liam passed away, but his legacy will live in our hearts and on the farm forever. Along with his beloved therapy pony, Adele, the two of them showed us what is possible as they made incredible strides together both in and out of the saddle. Their bond was obvious to all, and his smile in her presence could light up the entire barn.

Horses brought Liam freedom and happiness. In his honor and memory, NMET has established the Liam Freedom Fund for Children with Disabilities to cover the cost of therapy sessions and associated expenses for children living with disabilities and their families in time of need. To contribute to this fund, please visit how to help. **


“Each activity contributes to Moses' independence.”


To understand our mission in action, meet Moses, a teenager with Cerebral Palsy receiving occupational therapy while riding a horse at NMET. He requires assistance with daily activities including getting to and from his wheelchair, dressing, brushing his teeth, using the facilities and has difficulty with audible communication. This is where Moses’ therapy horse, Goldie, comes in to assist with reaching therapy goals. Hippotherapy is the technical term for the type of treatment that benefits Moses. In conjunction with the affordances of the equine environment and other treatment strategies, hippotherapy is part of his integrated plan of care.


Each activity completed in a hippotherapy session contributes to Moses' independence. By strengthening his muscles, smoothing out coordination and increasing balance, Moses will one day transfer himself to and from his bed, to and from his wheelchair, propel his wheelchair to the bathroom and complete fine motor movements such as brushing his teeth. Being able to communicate clearly will assist with expressing his needs to caregivers while contributing to his social life. Working with individuals living with physical and mental disabilities, NMET continues to strive to meet the increasing needs of our clients and their families.

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