Hillside Farm Pediatric Therapy begins operation this week but received an early introduction to the community at a ribbon cutting and open house hosted by the Oxford Chamber of Commerce in April. CONTRIBUTED

This new area business ‘just makes therapy fun’ for children

Hillside Farm Pediatric Therapy operates at 4653 Oxford-Trenton Road and have team of animals, including horses, goats and rabbits to help reinforce the work they do with children. Officials with the company say the setting puts their clients at ease.

“It just makes therapy fun,” said Audra Drake, one of the business owners.

Drake and Amy Vollmer are both therapists in the Talawanda school district and have worked in hospital settings. They feel this new venture will help them take their work a step farther.

Beanie (aka “Beans”) is their main therapy horse, a Haflinger, and Danny, a quarter horse, and Stanley, a miniature Arabian, also serve clients.

Hillside also use rabbits (Gertie, Fred, Clover and Sprout) and several pygmy goats.

The barn has a large indoor arena for riding, and owners have created a platform with ramp to help youngsters reach the horses.

“Hippotherapy uses the movement of the horse to reach goals. Occupational, physical and speech therapy can all use animals,” Vollmer said. “I grew up with horses and I have been in pediatric physical therapy for 20 years. My parents recently gave me access to this barn. Helping special-needs kids is at the heart of what we both do.”

Hippotherapy, using horses, is a recognized tool for dealing with the occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology professions.

Vollmer is a graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in physical therapy and she has more than 25 years’ experience working with pediatrics as both an outpatient therapist and in a school environment.

Drake is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University with a degree in occupational therapy. She has 25 years’ experience, as well, also dealing with children in outpatient and school settings.

Both have completed Level 1 hippotherapy training and are members of the American Hippotherapy Association.

The animals will have a greater role in the treatment process than just being there and giving the children a chance to relax.

“It gives a purpose to what they are doing, even feeding animals,” Drake said.”

Other activities will have beneficial results for the children, too. Vollmer said even play can have a purpose.

“Most children love animals. We can use animals to encourage them to learn functional tasks,” she said. “Having a goat climb all over them (can help with) a balance issue.”

The idea for Hillside Farm Pediatric Therapy was conceived in the fall of 2017, originally as a speech therapy effort, but it grew from there. Both took the initial hippotherapy training in Waco, Texas last summer and will take the Level 2 training next summer but are required to have some experience in the work before applying for that course. Much of the past year was spent remodeling the barn to include a sensory room and office/therapy space as well as finding horses with the right temperament for the work.

They officially open for business Monday and plan to keep their school positions while continuing to operate it. They anticipate some clients may opt for service just during the summer with kids going back into school therapy services when the new school year dawns, but said they have already had indications from some parents they intend to use both.

A third therapist at Hillside is Miami University graduate Carey Francis, who has a degree in speech pathology and 20 years working with pediatrics in both private practice and school settings.

Drake said they can work with a wide variety of needs from fine motor issues to autism, physical disabilities, Down syndrome and genetic issues.

“I think kids enjoy coming here rather than a hospital doing repetitions,” Vollmer said. “We treat the whole child.”

Drake said, “With some significant issues, a hospital can cause anxiety.”

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