Emily Fromme loves horses.
The 9-year-old Carver Elementary student rides Poncho, a 29-year-old Tennessee walking horse, once a week, and her room is decorated with all things equine.
What makes Fromme’s story special, however, is that she was born with arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that results in contracted joints and limited mobility. She started riding horses in 2009 as a form of physical therapy to help improve her strength and coordination.
“I love riding. It helps my muscles and gives me exercise,” said Fromme. “And it’s really fun.”
Poncho is one of seven therapy horses at Horsin’ Around, an accredited, nonprofit equine therapy program in Bloomingdale that works with the physically and mentally disabled.
“We help children and adults with special needs,” said program director Karrie Griffin. “The physical and psychological benefits of riding horses are tremendous.”
Fromme spends nearly an hour each week with Poncho and the all-volunteer Horsin’ Around staff.
“The movement of the horse helps the children rotate their hips and build core strength. We play games that stretch the upper body and help with their sensory skills,” explained Griffin. “They’re getting therapy, but they’re also having fun and developing relationships with the horses.”
Fromme’s parents said the program, which is free to participants, has helped their daughter manage her condition, which affects her arms and legs. The joints in her wrists and feet don’t bend, restricting her manual dexterity and forcing her to walk on her tiptoes.
“It’s definitely strengthened her muscles, her posture and her balance,” said her mother, JoAnne Fromme. “She used to trip and fall all the time; now she never stumbles or falls. It’s really improved her coordination, and she’s more confident than she was before.”
Last month, Fromme, Griffin and Poncho traveled to Perry to compete in the Georgia Special Olympics. Fromme entered the English equitation and English trail ride events — and took gold in both.
“Everyone fell in love with Emily at the Special Olympics. She has a smile that just lights up the room, and her determination lifts your heart. She never gives up,” said Griffin.
“I won because the judges liked my posture, my smile and my Poncho,” explained Fromme.
Fromme was one of six Horsin’ Around riders to compete. Together, they participated in a total of 17 events and took home seven gold medals, six silvers and one bronze.
“We’re so proud of all our kids and our horses,” said Griffin. ”This is why we do this.”
Fromme has already been invited back to compete in the 2013 games, where she hopes to try her hand at trotting and jumping.
“She can do it,” said her father, Roger Fromme. “She does whatever she sets her mind to. I’m just so grateful to Horsin’ Around for helping her. Without them, Emily would never be doing this. It’s opened a lot of doors for her and completely changed our dynamic, in a good way.”
For more information on Horsin’ Around, visit www.horsinaround.org.