Celebrating Tiger: the life and legacy of a therapy horse

Friends, we have some sad news to share. After many years serving hundreds of special needs children at TherAplay, Tiger, our dear friend and therapy horse, has passed away.

Tiger has been such a big part of our family, our therapy team, and our lives, it was only fitting that we prepare a special tribute to celebrate the life and legacy of this very special pony.

Tiger with his kiddo KateCan you guess which spotted pony went all the way to nationals?

There was a lot of color to our black-and-white-spotted pony. Not only did Tiger take his lifelong friend KC, who later joined the TherAplay barn staff, all the way to the national finals, it’s been said that he taught half of Carmel how to ride.

As Tiger’s mom Linda Kimball explains, “It was rare that we took Tiger anywhere that he wasn’t recognized.  People would tell me they learned to ride on him or he was entertainment at their birthday party. … He was a great pony who lived a colorful life.” As an equine member of the Kimball family and best friend of Linda’s daughter Kate, that colorful life included eventing, pony club, mounted games, and every kind of fun ponies can have with their kiddos.

Tiger

“Press Tiger’s Go spot.”

Thanks to the Kimball family’s generosity, Tiger joined the equine staff at TherAplay and continued the work he loved: helping children.

Tiger loved visiting and working with our kiddos just as much as they did – and the kiddos knew it. Even the shyest youngsters were eager to meet and ride our special spotted pony.

At the therapists’ direction, our kiddos frequently pressed Tiger’s “go spot” to walk and his “stop spot” when it was time to end. There were also many games of Connect the Spots played on his neck and back during on-horse treatment time which, in addition improving hand-eye coordination, generated many smiles and giggles from Tiger’s tiny passengers.

What was Tiger’s legacy as a therapy horse?

Like all of the horses in the TherAplay program, Tiger’s contribution through hippotherapy helped our special needs kiddos increase their balance and trunk strength; build overall postural control and endurance; improve weight bearing and motor planning; and facilitate the neurophysiologic systems that support functional daily living skills.

Tiger helping his kiddos

What does that mean for the special needs children Tiger served?

Put more plainly, some tremendous gains have been made thanks to sessions with Tiger (who occasionally shared his kiddos with his fellow therapy horses) and our pediatric occupational and physical therapists. Here are just a few examples from some of the kiddos Tiger worked with.

  • Henry can now put on his shirt all by himself. He has also become more independent at meal time, feeding himself by using a fork and spoon 75% of the time.
  • Tanner is now able to walk up and down the four stairs in our clinic, safely and independently, while holding onto a rail. And now he’s working towards climbing up four rungs of a ladder with little assistance.
  • Now Whitney is able to climb the suspension bridge at on the playground. Whitney may not realize she’s demonstrating good balance, strength, and motor planning, but her therapy team and family certainly see it!
  • Jackson has quadrupled the distance he can creep and is able to stand for five seconds without support.
  • Kendyll is using the potty independently!  He’s also improving pre-school readiness by learning to snip with scissors. He thinks he’s just having fun with Miss Abigail but he’s also engaging both hands in the task to improve bilateral hand coordination.

It’s true. Our favorite Tiger has left a remarkable legacy for the special needs kiddos – and their families – he served.

Some of our favorite Tiger moments

Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper tribute without featuring some of Tiger’s most memorable moments.

  • Long-time horse handler Ginger remembers, “Tiger was quite the talented Houdini. He knew how to open the door of his stall if the latch was forgotten and would look for opportunity to explore freely on his own. He also,” no doubt aided by his small stature, “perfected the Army crawl, so if the garage door was open and he was able to crawl under the board (blocking the entrance) and sneak out of the arena.”
  • Lead therapist Jen shares, “He loved to give green ‘Tiger kisses.’” Since our Tiger was toothless, “He ate hay cubes soaked in water, got them all over his muzzle, and then would slime, aka ‘kiss’ his people.” Oh how we are missing those green kisses now!
  • Last year, Tiger joined his fellow therapy horses in TherAplay’s First-Annual Equine Thanksgiving Round-Up with a sweet blog post to share what he was most thankful for.
  • And we’ll close with our favorite, another remembrance from Ginger. “Tiger had a special spot shaped like a heart that the kids liked to draw attention too. How fitting as he touched all of our hearts.” 

Tiger lily

TherAplay says thank-you

One of our staff members was especially moved by Tiger and had been wondering how to celebrate his life. When she glanced outside to her garden, she suddenly knew how. There, blooming with abandon, was a cluster of beautiful tiger lilies.

Those flowers – Tiger’s lilies – were planted by the TherAplay staff in the sensory garden where, like Tiger’s legacy, they will bloom and grow for years to come, a reminder of a small pony with a big heart.

You’re invited

Several members of Tiger’s extended TherAplay family have asked how they can celebrate his life, so we are sharing some ideas below:

  • Peppermints or carrots are favorites of our equine staff and certainly spread a little sweetness. If they are dropped off at the front office we will be sure to share them with Tiger’s horse friends.
  • You are also invited to share your favorite Tiger memories or a thank-you in the comments section below or on the forthcoming Facebook post. 
  • And of course donations in Tiger’s name are always welcome.