How A Horse Named Mikey Helped Laila Learn to Walk

From the way five-and-a-half-year-old Laila giggles, skips and hops her way through physical therapy, you’d never know that she couldn’t sit up until she was 13 months old—the same age at which most children begin walking.


Gross motor delays are a hallmark of hypomyelinating leukoencephalopathy, or the loss of white matter in the brain, a disorder that resulted in Laila’s profound hearing loss; challenges with balance, strength, and coordination; and decreased safety awareness.


After hearing many glowing reports from the mother of one of Laila’s classmates who attended physical therapy at Children’s TherAplay, Laila’s parents called to set up an appointment. That was two years ago. They’ve been coming once a week for equine-assisted physical therapy ever since.


After just a few treatments, Laila made progress
Victoria and her husband Quintin began noticing a difference in Laila after just a few treatments. “She started to get a little bit stronger. We could see her endurance getting better,” they said. And the tumbles Laila frequently took when she walked also diminished as physical therapist Teresa Keathley and the therapy horses applied hippotherapy – the movement of horses – to challenge Laila’s balance.


Teresa explains, “When Laila first started coming for treatment, she wasn’t able to maintain her center of balance on Mikey, her therapy horse. She would drift to the side,” which explained Laila’s tendency to fall over while walking. “In hippotherapy, Laila has to continually adjust to the horse’s movement. Every step the horse takes works on her balance and postural reactions.”


Decreased safety awareness was one of the primary challenges Laila was struggling with before beginning physical therapy at Children’s TherAplay. “Before it was difficult for her to climb on playground equipment with her peers. Now she’s able to play more safely and independently,” says Victoria.


“She’s so excited to show us”
Her newly-gained balance reactions, combined with coordination, lower extremity strength and motor planning skills, have also helped Laila achieve one of her initial long-term goals: skipping. She has also progressed on the balance beam. “Normally Laila just walks a few steps on the balance beam [before falling off],” explains her mother. “For her to have walked back and forth a few times is a big thing!”


Laila shares something in common with therapy horse Mikey 
Like so many of the children TherAplay serves, Laila enjoys a special bond with the therapy horses Gideon and Mikey. But Mikey is extra special to Laila because they have something in common: lost teeth. Mikey’s dental removal came via the veterinarian; Laila’s front tooth came out when she lost her balance on a piece of playground equipment over a year and a half ago. Thanks to her work with Mikey, Laila doesn’t face the high risk of falling like she used to.


Tremendous progress
The child who sometimes had to sit on the sidelines can now keep up with her little sister. “We are so appreciative that Laila has had the opportunity to receive her physical therapy at Children’s TherAplay. It’s such a blessing that she’s able to do more than just traditional physical therapy to meet her needs,” her mother says.
United Way of Central Indiana is proud to support the innovative and life changing work of Children’s TherAplay. Watch this video to get a glimpse of this unique therapy and learn more about this great community asset helping children throughout Central Indiana.