Alanna Flax-Clark regains her ability to speak from hippotherapy

"When I was 13 I woke up one morning and could not move or walk on my right foot. I had always been healthy, so this came as a shock."
— Alanna Flax-Clark on her website
Struck by a debilitating and chronic disease that robbed her of a great deal of her mobility and coordination at age 13, Alanna Flax-Clark has found that horses give her the freedom her body can’t. When a severe infection in 2008 left her bedridden and nearly unable to move or speak, Flax-Clark’s doctors prescribed physical therapy. She took it a step further.
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There wasn’t much progress with traditional therapies, so Flax-Clark decided to try hippotherapy, a form a physical therapy involving horses. Because horses’ movement matches humans’, sitting on a walking horse gives hippotherapy patients much-needed core strength. Flax-Clark was soon able to speak again.
More importantly, horses gave her freedom. “When I’m on a horse, it’s hard to tell I’m disabled,” she says. Her equine activities progressed from therapeutic riding to vaulting, a kind of gymnastics on horseback. Flax-Clark made tremendous progress, building on her skills until she was able to compete in vaulting at the walk.
As her strength and coordination improved, she began riding independently and at faster paces. Never one to let her disability stop her, Flax-Clark teamed up with Grand Prix dressage trainer Lehua Custer at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center and began taking lessons in dressage, a riding sport that requires precision of movement and harmony between horse and rider.
Flax-Clark now competes in para-dressage, short for parallel dressage, a sport in which disabled riders are judged on the same skills as any other dressage rider. After a two-year search, she and Custer found a suitable horse, Real Erbeo (affectionately known as Royal). He’s a tall, dapple grey Lusitano with a wonderfully kind and generous nature. Flax-Clark hopes he’ll help her pursue her new goal: the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo!
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