Giving HOPE, one patient at a time
A unique equine therapy center helps patients with disabilities, while a Bobcat skid-steer loader and attachments keep the facility in tip-top shape
Cindy McCarty, director of Timber Creek Therapies
Nestled among native Iowa grasses and trees is a sanctuary for individuals seeking therapy to recover from traumatic injuries, work on rehabilitation or redeem a last wish. Timber Creek Therapies near Panora, Iowa, gives hope and empowers individuals to regain their sense of freedom. The therapy center is also home to a Bobcat® skid-steer loader and attachments to help maintain the facility.
Cindy McCarty is the director of Timber Creek Therapies and has devoted much of the last 13 years to the organization and its supportive charity, Timber Creek Charities — a 501(c)(3) publicly supported, non-profit entity — to make a difference in the lives of thousands of patients and their families. She’s a trained speech/language pathologist who, with her husband, Bill, started Timber Creek Therapies. Cindy also founded Timber Creek Charities to help patients who lack adequate insurance or funds to pay for physical, occupational and speech/language therapies.
Bobcat loader at work
There’s a long list of chores that needs to be done daily to ensure the facility is in top-notch shape for visitors and patients. In addition to being a side walker, Merv Krakau is responsible for maintaining the grounds, which he does in earnest with a Bobcat skid-steer loader and multiple attachments — purchased by Bill McCarty at Haley Equipment in Carroll, Iowa. While Krakau didn’t grow up on a farm, he knows a thing or two about operating the Bobcat loader.
“It’s the only loader I’ve run,” he says, “and it’s easy to operate, very user-friendly. It’s a versatile piece of equipment. We put the bale fork on the Bobcat loader and move the bales around, which makes it nicer and easier.”
Side walker Merv Krakau goes along with a guest who visited Timber Creek Therapies for the opportunity to ride a horse for the first time in decades.
Other uses for the Bobcat loader include excavating with the backhoe attachment, using a bucket to move sawdust or cleaning manure to load it into a spreader and, with animals, there’s always a need for fence repairs.
“Fencing is always an issue,” Krakau says. “We have the auger and it helps us dig the holes for posts for our fence lines. That’s helpful because that’s a lot of work to do by hand.”
Cindy points out that among the surrounding timber are locust trees with long thorns that are a health hazard for the horses. After the Bobcat loader clears the trees, Krakau attaches the industrial grapple and grabs the trees and hauls them away. Next, the loader and a Brushcat™ rotary cutter cut overgrown grass and small trees, which Krakau says is helpful to keep it from interfering with the electric fencing. He says the mower goes underneath the fence to clear weeds, preventing it from causing a short circuit.
Bobcat skid-steer loaders have been a part of Bill McCarty’s life since he had them on his farm when he was young. He says he has always liked Bobcat loaders because they are the original loader in the compact equipment industry.
“They’re very dependable, versatile and reliable,” Bill says. “The dealer has come down to check on the loader or pick up things for us; they’re very accommodating and prompt,” Cindy adds.
The therapy center’s Bobcat skid-steer loader and auger are used to install new fence posts.
The Bobcat skid-steer loader and attachments ensure that Timber Creek will be able to provide therapy for patients, helping bring hope to many who are discouraged and an opportunity to enjoy another horse ride at Timber Creek Ranch.
About Timber Creek
Bill and Cindy purchased 220 acres near Panora, with natural springs and various timbers, and started Timber Creek Ranch, originally because Bill wanted a place to raise cattle, having grown up on a cattle ranch. It has 60 acres of tillable land; half to raise hay and the other half for pasture.
“It was kind of his get-away hobby,” Cindy says, “and he and I have always had horses. We would ride out in the timber.” That’s when she started to think about helping patients with the use of horses.
“I thought about adults I worked with in nursing homes who had strokes, especially those who didn’t have hobbies. I thought, if I could get them out here, they would really like it. I started reading about using horses in therapy and I’ve always loved horses, so wouldn’t it be great if I could work with horses and do therapy, too?
“My friend, Sue Behrens, a wonderful physical therapist who had put some of her patients on horses for movement disorders, was seeing good results from it. So we talked about what we could do to offer more therapy using the horses.” Behrens has been a physical therapist at Timber Creek Therapies since the beginning.
That thought started Cindy down a path of much reading and studying.
“I went to 11 different states and took training from other therapists who have programs and learned how it all started,” she says. “Every place I visited, I would look at the facility and think about what we might be able to do at our facility.”
Through her studies, Cindy learned the way a horse walks is the same way a human being walks. Here is how she describes it: “When you walk, your pelvis moves your torso, your trunk, in three different places, simultaneously. You get an anterior posterior motion, lateral motion and rotation pattern. All three of those things are going on at the same time, and there’s no machine that has been developed that can duplicate the human walk.”
Hippotherapy is the common name associated with the use of horses in physical, occupational and speech/language therapy programs; “Hippos” is the Greek word for horse. The therapy is believed to have originated in Germany and, according to McCarty, was brought to the United States in the early 1980s. “Therapists brought their knowledge of hippotherapy back to the United States, started programs all around the country, started doing more research and found that it was a good tool.”
Outside of the horses at Timber Creek Therapies, Cindy McCarty has a physical therapy room and another area with a warm water pool that features a moving current to help patients work on balance and mobility.
Next step: indoor arena
In 2001, Cindy and Bill took the next step and had an indoor riding arena constructed, and a therapy building built in 2002. The 80-by-120-foot arena is where visitors participate in physical, occupational and speech/language therapies. Timber Creek Ranch also offers therapeutic riding as a recreational activity for people with disabilities. Many patients have insurance coverage for their therapies but, for those who don’t, Timber Creek Charities steps in to help. In 2012, Timber Creek Therapies helped 175 individuals with disabilities to receive therapeutic treatment at Timber Creek Ranch. A portion of this group comes from area nursing homes and adult residential facilities.
“We operate 52 weeks of the year and, as far as I know, we are the only facility in Iowa using horses in medically based treatment year-round,” she says. “We have had a number of people come to us in wheelchairs who are now independent walkers, and many had been in traditional therapy. The horse is a tool for therapy like no other.
“We don’t make any money at Timber Creek Therapies, and that’s probably another reason why there aren’t other facilities like ours. I donate my time so that helps pay the staff and the bills, and the help from our charity makes it possible to see more patients and keep providing services. A lot of my friends are retiring. I don’t want to even think about retiring. I’m happy to get up and go to work every day.”
Today, Timber Creek Therapies has 24 horses, which are cared for by Timber Creek Ranch. Most of the horses are available for therapy with patients, and there are different breeds because, as Cindy points out, some diagnoses are better with certain breeds than others.
Another machine in the PT room helps spinal cord patients by making the patient’s muscles contract, even in a paralyzed limb, so it helps to keep the muscles viable, according to Cindy.
“For example, people who have neurological diseases, like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis, do better with gaited horses because of their lateral pelvic movement,” she says. “Our horses include Quarter horses, Appaloosas, Paints, Tennessee Walkers, Haflingers, a Norwegian Fjord, a Missouri Fox Trotter, an Arabian cross, a draft cross and a Belgian.”
Patients wear helmets and gait belts for safety purposes. Three people accompany each patient and horse: a horse leader, a therapist and a side walker. Most commonly, Krakau walks with patients. Cindy says he is the therapy center’s “strong side walker.”
For patients who are not able to ride, Cindy has a carriage that is pulled by the Belgian horse. “I knew some of the geriatric population wouldn’t be able to get on the horses, so I found someone who builds carriages and he made it for Timber Creek Charities,” she says. It also accommodates individuals in wheel chairs with a few minor modifications.