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Freedom on hooves

For at least one hour every week, Kathleen Hoipkemier of Cleburne said she doesn’t feel like she is disabled.

Battling MS over the years should have left her confined to a wheelchair, but a special type of therapy has given her hope, confidence and the strength to defeat the odds.

About 10 years ago, Hoipkemier was working as an administrative assistant when her health took a turn for the worse.

“My boss told me one day I needed to take a break so I thought I would take a walk to the store and back,” she said. “On my way back my left leg started dragging. It didn’t really hurt or anything, but one of my co-workers saw me coming and ran up and told me I had probably suffered a stroke.”

After several tests, the doctor informed Hoipkemier she had MS.

“Back in the old days when you got that diagnosis, it was understood that you were going into a wheelchair because there is no cure for it,” she said. “But praise God, through medicine, I am stable.”

MS involves an immune-mediated process in which an abnormal response of the body’s immune system is directed against the central nervous system CNS, which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.

No two people have exactly the same symptoms, and each person’s symptoms can change or fluctuate over time.

More common symptoms include walking difficulties, fatigue, numbness or tingling, spasticity, weakness, dizziness, pain, depression and cognitive changes. Some people may also experience problems with speech and swallowing, seizures, breathing problems and hearing loss.

Hoipkemier takes daily injections of Copaxone, which helps reduce the frequency of flare-ups.

“Even though I have progressed — I can barely even write with my left hand — I have stabilized and God-willing I will not get worse,” she said.

Although she is stable, Hoipkemier said the way she walks has made her self-conscious.

“In 2009 I was at a camp for MS and I saw a brochure for Wings of Hope horse therapy in Egan,” she said. “After I got home I called and got some more information about the program. I came in for an interview and was accepted.”

Wings of Hope provides innovative equine-assisted activities and is a sanctuary for individuals who are physically, emotionally and intellectually challenged.

“When I am on a horse, I don’t feel self-conscious anymore,” she said. “I am free and feel like I could almost run. It makes me feel like I am not disabled anymore. I am Kathleen Hoipkemier and I can do this.”

Galloping for a cure

Hoipkemier said she gets physical as well as spiritual healing while at therapy.

“I had ridden a little bit before, but I didn’t realize how much exercise a horse gives you,” she said. “You use every muscle in your body to keep balance. For me, my MS affects my whole left side, including my hand so riding has helped me with my balance and coordination. You have to squeeze the horse’s side when you want to go left or right, so that helps me work those muscles that have gotten weaker over the years.

“It is also a spiritual healing because the co-owner has a prayer service so we pray and sing. And when I first came here I thought a horse is a horse. But I have learned that a horse has a personality and you can read them.”

Kathy Hiberd, an office coordinator at Wings of Hope, said she has seen Hoipkemier’s confidence really soar since she first started riding.

“Kathleen will come ride when some of our other MS riders are not able to and she just kind of toughs it out,” she said. “Most of MS riders will not make it through June because the hot weather really challenges them with their symptoms, but she does.”

Chisholm Challenge

Hoipkemier has continued therapy at Wings of Hope for about eight years and is now considered an independent rider.

In January, she participated in the Chisholm Challenge at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.

At the event, riders with disabilities compete in showmanship, walking, trotting and jogging.

“We practiced for months for the Chisholm Challenge and my instructor gave me great pointers for how to work with the horse,” she said. “So you and the horse really become a team. There is so much bonding between the rider and the horse.”

Susan Riley has been a volunteer for about nine years with Wings of Hope and helped train Hoipkemier for the challenge.

“She did incredible,” she said. “I was out there pumping her up — which I really didn’t need to do — but she just had the most gorgeous ride I’ve ever seen.”

Because of MS, it is difficult for Hoipkemier to walk, but said being on a horse has given her new feet.

“Most of the horses that day wouldn’t even get near the gate, but horse, Vanny, went up to the gate and went through it,” she said. “It gave me a lot of confidence because even though I am disabled I accomplished something.”

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by CLEBURNETIMES-REVIEW
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length


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