Earlier this year, three long-standing AHA, Inc. members finished their term on the AHA, Inc. Board of Directors. We want to send a heartfelt thank you to Heather Ajzenman, OTD, OTR/L, HPCS, Nate Harms, and Lisa Harris, MSVS, PT, HPCS for their contributions to AHA, Inc. and our mission! In celebration of all their hard-work, we interviewed each of them to learn a little bit more about them as we bid them farewell from the board (but not from the AHA, Inc!)
Heather Ajzenman, OTD, OTR/L, HPCS
How long have you been a part of AHA, Inc.?
I was part of AHA, Inc. as a student starting in 2010 but probably joined in 2013 when I became a treating therapist and joined the board shortly after.
Why do you include hippotherapy in your practice?
I grew up with horses and used to volunteer with OTs, PTs, and SLPs that incorporated hippotherapy into their plan of care, so from early on I knew I wanted to incorporate it into my own practice. The benefits I see for many of my clients, are incredible and something I cannot re-create in the clinic or home environments.
How have you been involved in AHA, Inc.?
It all started off with my research with Dr. Timothy Shurtleff, OTD, OTR/L at Washington University in St. Louis where we studied the impact of OT incorporating hippotherapy for children with ASD (which was then published in AJOT in 2013). I also had the opportunity as part of my doctorate apprenticeship to travel the country and work with various AHA, Inc. faculty members. My main role with AHA, Inc. was originally as research chair as part of the BOD which we then expanded into the research committee to provide members with the most updated bibliography as well as now develop many other opportunities related to OT, PT, and SLP incorporating hippotherapy as part of research.
What advice to you have for therapists or AHA, Inc. members who are just starting out?
I highly suggest finding a mentor. Having personal experience working with many faculty members and having the opportunity to see different business model set-ups and various treatment approaches really influenced my own practice. It is also important to truly have an understanding of the horse’s movement from previous riding experience or gaining this experience prior to incorporating hippotherapy into practice.
What is your favorite thing about using hippotherapy as a treatment tool?
The versatility and impact of equine movement on the entire body level systems as well as entire well-being of individuals I work with. I can use this treatment approach with a diverse population and I love exploring ways to work with all different clients and families.
What is the most challenging thing about using hippotherapy as a treatment tool?
The greatest challenge is that I am using other people’s horses and facilities, though horses in general can always provide variability. Challenges exist with horses being handled by different people, horse’s with diverse training experience, and working around other activities occurring in these facilities.
How long have you been a part of AHA and in what capacity?
“A long time” In 2009 there was an AHA, Inc. conference at my facility in St. Louis and I joined the board shortly after that. Once off the board, I will take some time to relax and then maybe look for some new board opportunities in something else. I believe in term limits and I am excited to pass the torch to someone else
How have you been involved in Hippotherapy?
I am not a therapist, but was looking for a place to ride casually and volunteer. I had done some work with the Red Cross before and when I googled horse and volunteer in 2007 in St. Louis, I found the facility that I am currently employed by. I initially thought the medical side of using horses with patients was crazy, but now I think it’s fantastic!
Do you ride? Favorite breed?
I am a casual rider, nothing formal. I took some lessons as a kid, but nothing formal beyond that.
What college/university did you attend; what was your major?
I attended the University of Texas for a year and then transferred to Washington University in St. Louis for undergraduate school and then St. Louis University for my Masters. I initially had the plan to return to the University of Texas for law school, but somewhere along the line my life plan changed.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I need to get better at that hahaha….maybe after I’m off of the AHA, Inc. Board!. I spend a lot of time with my dog, who has some medical challenges. I do love to stay busy though – I can’t sit still and is always doing something.
One last word!
My favorite part of the day at work is that I am always reminded about why we do what we do, the stories – I have gotten to experience everything from admin to horse care to farm work to helping during sessions as a volunteer so I have a really great understanding of all parts of how this business works.
Lisa Harris, MSVS, PT, HPCS
Why do you include hippotherapy as a treatment tool in your practice?
I include hippotherapy as a tool because I have seen patients progress faster toward their goals.
How have you been involved in AHA, Inc.?
I am currently serving my second term on the board. The first time was 1997-2004 and the second 2013-2019. In the first term, I served as Research Chair, Newsletter Editor, Vice President and in the second as Education and Conference Chair. I have also served as Faculty Coordinator for …many years…
What advice do you have for therapists or AHA, Inc. members who are just starting out?
Get involved, go to courses, grab a mentor and go explore the power of this wonderful tool we have.
How did you get started using hippotherapy?
I had a PT internship with Terri Barnes, PT, one of the founders of the AHA, Inc.
How is your practice set up?
I currently have a private practice, LLC. I work with other therapists who also have LLC’s and we help each other, share horses, equipment and volunteers as need be. I own and train two of the four horses we use.
Most memorable patient?
I have several. I will pick one. I treated a child with pulmonary hypertension who made great gains in conditioning effects to include immediate improvement in oxygen saturation and over time reduction in heart rate. I thought this was so amazing because I had been so focused on gross motor skills and less so on respiratory effects. This was a capstone project for one of my PT students.