Dr Terri-Ann Samuels’ therapy

By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, May 07, 2012

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SHE has many fond childhood memories of going to the stables with her father and uncle to groom and train their horses, but it wasn't until after becoming a qualified physical therapist that the idea of becoming a hippotherapist really clicked for Dr Terri-Ann Samuels.

The 28-year-old believes she has the best job ever, as she gets to incorporate her love for children and animals to change the lives of many. As a hippotherapist, Dr Samuels helps to rehabilitate children suffering from a whole range of physical disabilities by having them ride horses.

"When a child is sitting on a horse with their hips moving back and forth from side to side, their pelvis moves as they would during normal walking and it is repetitive and reciprocal," she explained.

Dr Samuels is currently the only hippotherapist on the island; in fact, she only discovered this specialisation area during her final year research project as a physical therapy student at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.

"It stuck with me because my dad owns racehorses and one of his best friends is a trainer, and so from I was a little girl, we would get up at four o'clock in the morning and we would put on our little sneakers and we would go with dad to see them wash and bathe these horses and train them," she said.

"It was a trade off because my mother used to say 'my good Christian daughters are not going to go to track to watch them run and race', but we could watch daddy in his element with his horses and so I've always had a love for them," Dr Samuels shared during a recent interview with All Woman.

Dr Samuels then signed up with a university in Fort Lauderdale to do her doctorate online, and to gain experience in her speciality area. The programme required her to have a mentor and do active training, but with no local persons here, she teamed up with a Jamaican-born hippotherapist in Florida who assisted with her training. In addition to this, the physical therapist also used every chance she got to travel to other training facilities in Florida, Barbados and Trinidad.

Although she needed between just 100 to 200 hours of practical work to become certified, Dr Samuels had done more than 500 hours by the time she completed her studies. Despite her hectic study schedule, she also found time to establish her practice here in Jamaica.

"I couldn't stop because I loved it and I fell in love," she beamed.

In addition to being a hippotherpist, Dr Samuels is also a certified aquatic therapist who uses a pool to help rehabilitate her patients. And her patients are many, as more and more doctors are referring people to her for treatment. In the past year alone, she has treated at least 60 adults and 40 children.

Dr Samuels still laughs at the fact that her love for children makes it so easy for her to forget the fact that she hates getting her hair wet. Her focus is always to find creative ways to get them to move.

"Instead of saying to them, 'we are going to learn to sit up or we are going to learn to strengthen our hips or backs', I simply say, 'can you run across for me and get the ring and run come back in an allotted time?' And they will get prizes like little bubbles that I buy," she shared.

"I call it my trick philosophy; I trick them into believing that they are here to have fun," she said.

Both Dr Samuels and her younger sister, who is a pre-school teacher, always wanted to take on jobs that allowed them to interact with children. As such, it wasn't difficult for the physical therapist to turn down more lucrative job offers overseas following her studies, although she admitted that she cried when she made the decision.

"You know how some persons would see a child with disability and dysfunction and their hearts would break? I see potential, I see promise, because a lot of these children are the happiest, because they are always laughing, they are always smiling, they are always engaging with you, so we need to know how to understand them," she said.

But as fun as her work is, Dr Samuels is always mindful of her parents' advice to keep things balanced.

"They always taught us to maintain a balance and that family is always important. Although our friends don't think we can; we can cook and clean and wash and so forth, because mommy says we have to be balanced children," she laughed.

The self-proclaimed Soca baby tries never to miss a carnival and has an unwritten rule that her birthday is an off day. In fact, Dr Samuels does something special for herself every year, and tries to find time to salsa with friends or undertake charitable activities. She has no qualms in proclaiming that she is a bachelorette who is still searching for the perfect partner to start her family with.

Her practice is no doubt growing by leaps and bounds, which makes it hard for Dr Samuels to ever regret taking on the challenge of trying something different to cater to scores of children in need.

"I tell people all the time that I do this because I love it and I want to always love it," she said.

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