A vaulting instructor helps her student balance in Forward Stride's vaultin program.

Defying Expectations – Blake’s Story

An instructor assists a girl balancing on a horse and lifting one leg in Forward Stride's vaulting program

Born with a rare genetic disorder, Blake has defied expectations and overcome challenges at Forward Stride. 

Before starting in Rehabilitation Services at Forward Stride, Blake received Physical Therapy and had worked with over 30 different medical professionals for various purposes throughout his young life. His mom shares, “Blake was born with a rare genetic disorder which impacts all systems in his body and has undergone 2 skull reconstructive surgeries, tethered cord surgery, eye surgery, and more. It was believed that he may not be able to walk when he was an infant. We were even looking into the Go Baby Go program for him to get vehicle for mobility. With the blessings of all of the medical professionals that we have encountered, Blake has overcome some incredible odds and continues to grow and become stronger in all areas of his life.”

Due to the many medical procedures and appointments early in his life, Blake had medical trauma and was stagnating in his physical progress. “He was screaming and disregulated when we would go to his PT appointments, and  I knew we needed to try something different for him rather than receiving Physical Therapy services at a hospital. Blake has always had a huge love for animals and through searching and asking around I came across Forward Stride.”

Physical therapist and director of Rehabilitation Services at Forward Stride, Sheila Stahl Butler, notes, “When you speak of our Rehabilitation Services program, many people are confused and think we do therapy on horses; and yes, we do get on horses during some of our sessions, and no, the horses are not getting therapy. However, our goals for each of our clients are similar to those in a clinical setting. We just have much cooler tools.

Forward Stride proved to be a game-changer for Blake. From the very first session, the impact was evident. His mom writes, Immediately he was excited, motivated, and chatty! I was brought to tears just watching him smile and laugh, and focus and listen.” The sessions not only focused on physical development but also encompassed crucial life skills – regulation, communication, responsibility, and horsemanship. Blake found solace in the presence of his therapy horse and even dressed up as his horse for Halloween!

Blake LOVES his sessions and is the happiest when he is with his horse. Blake’s quality of life with Forward Stride is incredible. He is able to do an activity that is special for him that doesn’t feel like another medical appointment.

- Blake's mom

A young girl and instructor practice balancing on a horse in Forward Stride's vaulting program

Blake’s journey unfolded over the months as he progressed beyond expectations. Speaking to his progress, his mom notes, “Blake has been able to learn to jump over objects, adjust his body to be centered on the horse, working on coordination, and just learned to gallop just like his horse! These may sound like small tasks for you and me, but he has not been able to do those things EVER. His eye contact is stronger, he is has made big improvements with communicating his needs, and is much more regulated than before. All of this because of what he is working on during his weekly PT sessions.”

Blake’s physical therapist, Sheila, shares, “Using the horse as a dynamic surface makes us very different from therapy in a clinical or hospital setting. We don’t practice functional goals, we do them. We don’t practice running, climbing, managing our clothes, we do it! The horse is just that special tool we use that engages all people on a cellular level; it changes our physiology and makes us happier. Horses make people WANT to come to therapy; horses make people care about them and in return the horses care about the clients. This improves their quality of life, their self esteem, their self confidence. With these new feelings and functions, our clients can go out into the community and make a difference; they can be better students, friends, family members and they can participate in community activities that connect us all.”

Two students practice vaulting movements with their instructor at Forward Stride's vautling program.

His big brother, watching the sessions, witnessed Blake’s newfound joy and progress. “I brought my older son who is 11 to watch one of the sessions, and he was so proud of Blake and saw an immediate difference in the way he worked during his session. Big brother kept saying, “this is amazing for Blake, look at him smile!”. Forward Stride has changed Blake’s life just in a few months. My eyes well up every time I think about the impact that its had just since the end of August.”

Blake’s story is a testament to the potential of therapy that goes beyond conventional methods. Blake’s mom shared, “I wish all kiddos that need this support could experience this. I wish there was MORE availability for families to receive such amazing services in a different way, that is child-centered. Forward Stride is incredible and my hope is that with the community’s support, more children can have the opportunity to grow alongside the compassionate staff and volunteers.”

With your support, more children like Blake can experience the profound impact of compassionate and unique therapeutic care.

Forward Stride is a 501(c)3 non-profit and we would not exist without our donors. Donations support every single one of our programs, help us care for our herd, and ensure we can continue to serve clients like Blake for years to come.