A Horse Is Not Always Just a Horse (Of Course)
Cumming, Georgia (Senate District 27)
Lauren Lange pulls up to the Holbrook Farm horse stables with her parents on a beautiful spring day. She’s committed to her goal. She’s going to work for an hour without taking a break. Gloria Griffin, her therapist whose practice is called Forward Strides Counseling, explains that this is a goal they’ve been working toward for a while, which Lauren is generally able to meet most days, especially right now while the weather is mild.
Lauren is a 35-year-old woman with Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS), a rare genetic disorder which sometimes masks as cerebral palsy during infancy because it’s characterized by poor muscle tone, feeding difficulties, and developmental delays. Later in life, it leads to anxiety, the inability to control food intake, and Type II diabetes. While they knew that she had a disability for much of her childhood, she was not properly diagnosed until the age of 16. (Story continues below after slideshow.)
Going to the stables once a week for equine-assisted psychotherapy has been a six-year long commitment for Lauren. She found Gloria through another psychologist she was seeing at the time. What’s important to note about equine therapy is that Lauren channels, communicates, and regulates her own emotions through the horses. “What do you think Chocolate Drop is feeling right now?” Gloria asks, as Lauren runs her hands along its flank. “She’s feeling anxious,” she replies. Gloria points out to me as an aside that Lauren is herself feeling anxious in this moment; she’s projecting that feeling onto the horse.
Lauren is on the Self-Direct version of the COMP Waiver. Currently, Lauren and her family are in crisis because her personal care assistant, Ashley, whom they hired through the Medicare waiver is on temporary leave because her husband had a tragic fall and is still recovering. In order to bridge this gap time, they are going to redirect some of her hours to CAG (Community Access Group), and Lauren will attend a local day program, Creative Enterprises, two-three days a week. They’d rather wait on Ashley to return, instead of going through this process, but it’s unclear how long Ashley will be away. Because of the uniqueness of Lauren’s needs with PWS, particularly the vigilance needed with food control, they can’t just go out and hire another assistant.
Lauren and Debbie speak about what they would say to their representatives. Lauren says that she wants them to know that she is happy, that she has a family that loves her and supports her in any way possible. Debbie says she wants people to understand the importance of Self-Direct and making those decisions. The equine-assisted therapy, while obviously crucial to Lauren’s success and happiness, is probably not something others would make a priority on her behalf. As Debbie and her husband are aging, long-term plans are also on their minds. Speaking of aging and the stress of working while managing Lauren’s care, Debbie says, “We are on the edge,” which brings the issue of funding for respite care for providers into the conversation as well. Gloria says, “Sometimes, it’s all talk with mental health funding … people say they’re going to fund mental health, but they don’t.”
Writer: Shannon Turner, Photographer: Beate Bass