Each month the AHA, Inc. will be talking to one of our wonderful Board members or faculty! This month we will be interviewing….. President Tina M Rocco, M.A. CCC-SLP, HPCS
What made you decide to become a SLP?
When I was younger, my best friend asked me to go with her to volunteer at a local riding center that offered riding lessons and therapy sessions for children and adults with disabilities. At the time, I didn’t know anything about horses or about working with people with disabilities, and it just sounded like something fun to do. I quickly became hooked though. I not only got the “horse bug”, but I also found out that I really enjoyed helping others.
I started taking riding lessons and putting in as many volunteer hours as I could. I wanted to learn everything I could about horses, horse care, and about working with people with disabilities. I volunteered at that center all through high school, until I eventually became a riding instructor there for people with and without disabilities. I enjoyed every minute of it.
There is a quote that says, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” When it was time to select a major in college, I knew that I wanted to work in a fulfilling career that would allow me to combine my love of horses with my passion for helping others. I looked into occupational therapy, physical therapy and or speech language pathology, knowing I could eventually utilize Hippotherapy in treatment and combine my love of horses with my passion for helping others. I ultimately picked speech language pathology because it seemed like the most interesting to me, and because I received an athletic scholarship for horseback riding on the IHSA team at Molloy College, where they happened to also have a great speech language pathology program.
How do you explain what you do (Hippotherapy)?
My answer really depends on the audience and their understanding of both speech language pathology and of Hippotherapy. I am always careful to explain that first and foremost, I am a speech language pathologist and that speech language pathologists help people throughout the lifespan with addressing 5 main areas: Speech difficulties, Language difficulties, Social communication difficulties, Cognitive-communication difficulties and Swallowing difficulties (dysphagia). I then explain how and why I might choose to include Hippotherapy as part of a larger total plan of care to help address those areas. Sometimes my response is quite detailed and scientific and references the AHA, Inc. conceptual framework, and other times it is simplified, depending on the audience.
How has the way you use Hippotherapy changed since you started your practice?
It has changed dramatically. I spent a great deal of time early in my career trying to get as much education as I could. That’s how I eventually became involved with AHA Inc. I was incredibly lucky to have an AHA, Inc. faculty member as a mentor early in my career. Taking courses, going to conferences, and networking with other therapists has been invaluable. The AHA, Inc. Level II Hippotherapy Treatment Principles course and the Business Connection course both had a huge impact on how I practice and really helped me to change my thinking about when and how I include Hippotherapy in speech treatment in order to have the greatest impact for my clients.
In 2011, I was fortunate (though it didn’t feel that way at the time) that several major events in my career pushed me toward opening my own practice. A year later, I secured my first clinic space, where Hippotherapy could be combined with a variety of other treatment tools, strategies and approaches based on what is most effective for any given client. Opening the clinic and having the availability of a designated therapy space really changed the way I practiced, and how I thought about using Hippotherapy as part of a larger total plan of care.
Another game changer was adding long lining as a handling method. We implemented long lining training for our horses and horse handlers and it has greatly impacted the quality of the movement and therefore, treatment outcomes.
I feel fortunate in that as the current AHA, Inc. board president I constantly have the opportunity to learn from colleagues and experts. I imagine that how I utilize Hippotherapy in treatment will continue to evolve and change over time, based on the most current research and information available.
What advice do you have for therapists or AHA, Inc. members who are just starting out?
I would strongly recommend finding a mentor, in your professional discipline if possible. Take courses. Learn all that you can about equines and equine behavior. Make sure that you are well versed in the AHA, Inc. terminology guidelines and best practice statements. Pursue certification through AHCB. Most importantly, always remember that you’re a therapist first and when you add horses into treatment, you are operating as an OT/PT/SLP practice- not as a Hippotherapy Program. One of the best things that I did for my career was getting involved with AHA, Inc.! I started out working as a member of a committee. It’s a great way to learn and to also give back.
How is your practice set up?
It is set up as a professional limited liability company (PLLC). We have a clinic in a professional building and rent space at an equestrian center a few minutes away. All clients are seen both at locations, with Hippotherapy being utilized as part of a larger total plan of care, and never as a “stand alone”. This helps us to ensure carryover and the best treatment outcomes possible for our clients.
Do you have a breed preference?
For therapy, I really like working with Fjords and Haflingers. I have found their size, conformation, temperament, versatility and personality to be great for Hippotherapy.
What is your favorite thing about using Hippotherapy as a treatment strategy?
What I like the most about it is that it can be used in so many different ways to help target an endless number of treatment goals. Including equine interactions and equine movement in a session is often enjoyable for the clients, and that makes it easy to get them engaged and motivated in treatment. In turn, that helps them make progress faster.
What do you like to do when not working?
Riding- of course! I currently lease a Friesian named Nocturne, who is a dressage upper level schoolmaster. He is so much fun to ride. I also have two great dogs, Charlie (a 15-year-old Jack Russel Terrier) and Bella (a 10 year old Maltipoo) who I like to take for walks and go to the park with. Both help me to disconnect and recharge when I need a break.
What’s your favorite food?
Fun fact: I am a vegetarian. If I had to pick one favorite food, it would be cheese.
How do you spread the word about hippotherapy?
Through my practice, I maintain a blog, which shares information and ideas related to Hippotherapy (among other topics). I offer internship opportunities and observation hours for SLP students, which has been a great way to reach young professionals and to help them to understand Hippotherapy as another treatment tool used within PT/OT/SLP treatment. I also help to spread the word by taking the time to educate the families I work with, and other professionals on their team. Lastly, I hope that my work on the AHA, Inc. board and committees has helped to raise awareness as well.