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Packing her saddlebags

Gemma McLuckie
December 02, 2014

HDFS degree will lead Stickley to a career in equine therapy

It’s not hard to picture Kelsey Stickley galloping to the rescue. Her rapid-fire conversation and her direct blue gaze leave no doubt that she will reach her goal -- aiding people of all ages who need a helping hand.

Stickley dreams of a farm where clients will learn independence and build strength on horseback, receiving physical therapy through equine therapy.

Kelsey Stickley

The senior from Defiance, Ohio, plans to enroll in a degree program for physical therapists after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in human development and family science.

Her dream began to take shape with a light-bulb moment while volunteering at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.

Daniel was a 2-year-old in the occupational and physical therapy program who was learning to walk. Stickley had tracked Daniel’s progress as he worked up to scooting on his knees around the wards.

“Then, just like that – it was so crazy – we were standing there and he got up and walked by himself,” Stickley said. “It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”

The demonstration of how physical therapy could change a child’s life cinched it for Stickley. She wanted to become a physical therapist. And she wanted to combine this exciting discovery with her longtime love of horses.

Riding passion meets compassion 

A friend introduced her to horseback riding when they were in the 7th grade.  Their instructor took Stickley under her wing.

“I started helping her train her horses and then keeping them well-conditioned,” Stickley said. She also rode them in fairs and other local competitions.

“My goal has always been to work with horses somehow. When I found out about therapeutic riding, it really exploded. It was my passion.”

She loved shadowing physical therapists during internships at a medical office and an assisted living facility. One mentor in particular has impressed her. “He’s very wise and knowledgeable. He loves to teach, and the more fascinated he is by what he’s doing, the more interested I am in learning.”

She also worked at a summer camp serving children with chronic medical conditions such as asthma and interned at a therapeutic riding center for children and adults with mental, physical, intellectual or emotional setbacks. “That was awesome,” Stickley said.

Children at Camp Kesem, Bellefountaine, Ohio, enjoy moments with Kelsey Stickley. Children and teens from 6 to 16 years old attend the summer program for families dealing with cancer.

During another internship last summer in northeast Ohio, she helped 12-year-old Cameron, who strengthens her leg muscles by riding. Even though doctors predicted she would never be able to, Cameron now walks. “She’s such a crazy girl. She’ll be screaming and laughing, and then she gets on her horse and just like that, she’s, ‘Ahhh, okay. Let’s work.’”

The Human Development and Family Science curriculum gives Stickley insights into how best to interact with clients. “It helps me be aware of why people may have developed certain habits, why their lifestyle is where it is.”

The path was smoothed financially by participating for three years in the cooperative Alumnae Scholarship Housing (ASH) program in Hanley House. A desire to experience off-campus life tightened her budget, so she is especially thankful for receiving the Katherine Stuckey Grimm Scholarship.

Fulfilling lifelong dreams

A physical therapy career will be flexible enough to allow Stickley to feed her wanderlust until she is ready to settle down and build that therapeutic riding center.

In addition to building bodies, she also would like the horses to offer emotional comfort, much like she finds. “Just being in the barn is my peace,” she explained. “Horses have a gentleness– being with them is like my own form of therapy.”

She has learned that some programs share that belief. They take miniature horses to visit people in assisted living or care facilities. Others help survivors of sexual assault or abuse, or people suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

As she waits to hear if she is accepted into a graduate physical therapy school, Stickley is considering other options for fulfilling her dream.

“As long as I’m working with horses, I’m okay.”



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