Personal Ponies get Active Hands

As I have mentioned in the past, the main aim of The Active Hands Company is to improve disabled people’s lives by offering products that enable users to overcome potential barriers and gain independence. We ship our products all over the world, catering to people with a vast range of disabilities and conditions, and there’s nothing we love more than receiving positive feedback from our clients and hearing the impact our products are having on people’s lives. It really does make it all worthwhile. We would therefore like to share a story with you about a fantastic charity in America called Personal Ponies, an amazing little girl named Kelcie, and the positive effect our Active Hands gripping aids were able to have.

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Kelcie was born on September 4th 2004. She was two months premature and required a respirator and oxygen to help her breathe. Due to her early birth and initial lack of oxygen, cysts formed on her brain which resulted in Kelcie developing a condition known as periventricular leukomalacia, a not uncommon brain injury for premature infants that affects the white matter that sends information to the brain, spinal cord and muscles. After a month in neonatal intensive care, and with doctors still unsure to what extent the brain had been damaged, Kelcie’s mother was able to take her 3lbs 14oz baby girl home. Once there, Kelcie began therapy as soon as possible in the hope that she could grow to reach her fullest potential. As Kelcie grew from a baby, to an infant, to a happy, funny and motivated young girl; it became clear that, whereas her injury had affected her physically; mentally she was as sharp as a button and hungry to get the most out of life! And that is where Personal Ponies comes in.

Personal Ponies was founded by Marianne Alexander in 1986 and is a charity that gives children with special needs the chance to meet, groom, ride and look after miniature Shetland ponies. Starting out with only 2 ponies, the organisation is now international and can boast approximately 50 breeding farms, 65 stallions, about 200 breeding mares, and more than 1500 registered ponies! At its heart, Personal Ponies is a community based learning organisation that promotes an I Can! attitude and has the core value of caring at its centre. It has given the gift of laughter and happiness to thousands of children, including Kelcie, and continues to do so to this day!

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Kelcie was 8 years old when she first attended Personal Ponies and the experiences she has had with them over the past couple of years have caused her smile to grow and grow. When she was younger she would get easily startled, but thanks to her weekly interaction with the ponies, this has drastically minimised. Lying on the back of one of the ponies can help stretch and relax her severely tightened muscles, and her face lights up whenever she gets to wash, groom, feed or paint the ponies, especially Cookie Face – her favourite!

However, due to the tightness in Kelcie’s muscles and fingers, she found it extremely difficult to do any of these activities independently, and would instead have to rely on a ‘hand over hand’ method, meaning that someone would physically need to help her to hold whatever she might be using to interact with the ponies at that time. Then one day, a volunteer brought in an Active Hands General Purpose Gripping Aid, and everything changed.

The staff were amazed at how the aid was able to allow a person to securely and comfortably grip a multitude of items, allowing them to tend to the ponies independently. The adult-sized aid was too big for the young children to use however, and so Sandra Seiden, state director of the Florida branch of Personal Ponies, approached Active Hands to see if we could help. As the charity is not-for-profit and made up entirely of volunteers, we offered to send a pair of sample Mini Aids out to them which, as soon as they arrived, became an instant game changer!

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Within moments of their arrival, we heard back from an excited Sandra, who said that Kelcie had managed to brush her pony and fill up the water bucket all by herself! “My heart absolutely danced to see how she was able to groom the pony completely independently because of your product” said Sandra, who went on to describe Active Hands as “a dream come true” and “a perfect design” that gives the user an “I CAN attitude”! When asked what the difference was between actively assisting a child with ‘hand over hand’ help and using Active Hands, she said, “The assistance that Active Hands offers is the freedom to DO IT BY MYSELF!”

After her initial wide-eyed amazement and with squeals of, “I DID IT!! THAT WAS SOOOO COOOOOOL!!”, Kelcie is now able to wash, feed, groom and paint the ponies independently, all whilst using the Active Hands Mini Aids. Her mum was brought to tears when witnessing all of her daughters ‘firsts’ at the barn!

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As we grow from babies, to infants, to children, to adolescents, to adults; our confidence in our own abilities should also grow, leading us to push ourselves and seek out challenges in our quest for independence. However, it is not always a straightforward path and, for a variety of different reasons, some youngsters will not find it as easy a process as others. They may require extra nurturing and physical aids to give them the confidence, self-belief and I Can! attitude, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Achieving independence is so important for children like Kelcie and the fact she can now care for the ponies by herself will give her the confidence needed to help stimulate her emotional growth, as well as reinforce the importance of responsibility, caring and nurturing, and all whilst having the most amazing time!

Active Hands is proud to have been able to help Kelcie reach this milestone and give her the opportunity to create some truly magical memories that will doubtless stay with her throughout life. We hope our gripping aids will continue to be of benefit to Kelcie and the children at Personal Ponies, as well as to our worldwide network of customers and users.

Gareth Herridge