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Sandra LaFlamme

How Service Animals Helped Me Overcome My Head Injury

When I was a child, I suffered a head injury that drastically changed my life. I was no longer able to do the things I had been able to do before, such as run or talk the same way. While it was difficult, I eventually found new ways to gain function and create a sense of accomplishment in life by doing something that felt natural to me—riding horses.

Growing up, my parents arranged for me to have reading tutors and horse riding lessons as part of my rehabilitation process. From the very beginning, it felt like the horses understood what I was going through and wanted to help me heal. They were patient and kind with me, not caring that I had suffered a serious head injury.

Riding horses gave me the physical balance and strength that I needed after my head injury. As time went on, they also helped build up my confidence and gave me an outlet to express myself without feeling judged or alienated because of my disability. Riding horses also taught me how to take responsibility for another living creature’s well-being; something which has stayed with me throughout adulthood.

After many years of riding horses with patience and dedication, I began entering show arenas, where I experienced recognition for all of my hard work in overcoming my disability and learning how to ride competitively again. This recognition provided a major boost in confidence which made it easier for me to transition back into “normal” life after suffering such a traumatic experience at such a young age.

Horses have played an invaluable role in helping me overcome the physical, emotional, and psychological effects of suffering a severe head injury as a child. Through them, I have been able to relearn how to be physically active again while gaining purpose from taking care of an animal who accepted me through thick and thin. Although there are still hardships associated with living with this disability on a daily basis, having horses and now service dogs in my life has made it much easier for me to navigate through these challenges while experiencing joy along the way. I owe this therapy so much more than words can express!s


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