Suffolk, VA (May 29, 2012) -- Sentara Obici Hospital is once again showing its dedication to the people of Southeastern Virginia with the introduction of Survivors in Saddles, a six-week program for breast cancer patients who are on the road to recovery. Working with trainers and volunteers from Indian Point Farm in Suffolk, Survivors in Saddles have the chance to spend time outside, talk with fellow patients, and learn the new skill of horseback riding.
“I know the benefits firsthand,” shared Pat Thornton, a Sentara Obici Hospital breast cancer navigator who founded the program. “I started riding three years ago, in part to help myself cope with a chronic condition. The stress release is wonderful. Everything just goes away, and I come back from riding feeling like I’m 15 again.”
David and Monica Christiansen, owners of Indian Point Farm, hosted the first, one-and-a-half hour session on May 9 with six women who were cleared by their physicians to participate. The trainers introduced the women to the horses and explained how to care for and groom the animals.
The participants later learned how to put on saddles, mount the horses, and walk in the arena. Volunteers guided the horses at a slow pace, giving participants, most of whom had never been on a horse, time to feel comfortable with the 1,200-pound animals.
The approach seemed to be just right for the women:
“I didn’t know how the horses and I would get along!,” said Carla Duck, a Zuni residents who learned she had breast cancer in January. “I’m an outdoor person and have always loved to look at horses, but I was afraid of them until now. My horse’s name is Zippy, and he must have sensed that this was my first time on a horse. He went very slowly for me.”
Duck is working part time in her job as an information systems technician with Isle of Wight Schools as she completes radiation treatments and recovers from two surgeries. She uses the Survivors in Saddles sessions as a form of physical therapy.
“My doctor wants me to get at least 20 minutes of exercise a day and to strengthen my right side where my breast and lymph nodes were removed,” said Duck. “This helps me do that. Believe me, it is a definite workout. Those saddles weigh a lot, and it’s work to get them on the horse.”
Thornton, who raised the funds for Survivors in Saddles by hosting a silent auction at Sentara Obici Hospital, has been thrilled to see Duck and the other participants become stronger physically and emotionally.
“One person was worried and told me she was only going to stay on the horse for one walk around the arena. She got so comfortable, she ended up doing all three with a smile on her face,” Thornton said. “Another woman said to me, ‘You know what two words none of us have thought about? Breast cancer!’ That gave me goose bumps.”
Three more Wednesday sessions remain for Survivors in Saddles, and Thornton hopes to offer the program again.
“Indian Point Farm and Sentara Obici Hospital are great partners,” she said. “We reach out to the community and do whatever we can to make a difference. We’re thinking about new ideas, too, to help other patients.”
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