About PATH Intl.

Member of the Month: Shannon Middleton

Congratulations to our 2nd member of the month for June, Shannon Middleton.

Some of you may recognize Shannon Middleton’s name as the chair of the PATH Intl. Membership Outreach Committee. Being an engaged association volunteer is reason enough for her to receive this recognition, but Shannon also brings her unique heart and expertise to the role. Shannon joined the staff at Ride on Center for Kids (ROCK), a PATH Intl. Premier Accredited Center in Georgetown, TX, as a speech language pathologist in 2006 after volunteering at ROCK for two years. She has an undergraduate degree in education with a specialty in speech therapy and a master’s degree in communication disorders. She has over 20 years’ experience including working with individuals with cerebral palsy, autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, language disorder/delay, articulation/phonological disorder, cognitive impairment, stroke and head injury.

Shannon first joined PATH Intl., then NARHA, in 2006. She had decided on a career shift and wanted to learn more about adding hippotherapy strategies to her speech therapy sessions. “My mentor and future boss, Nancy Krenek, sent me down the path of becoming a NARHA registered instructor first. With my limited horse experience at the time, it was perfect because I had to improve my riding skills first and learn a lot about horse behavior and safety.”

Shannon says her reason for loving the field of EAAT is that, “Everyone in this industry is passionate about what they do. Some of us came because we wanted to serve others and some of us came because of the horses, but everyone wholeheartedly believes in this industry.”

How did this SLP first learn about EAAT? “I worked at a hospital starting 1995-1998 that had a ‘hippotherapy program’ where I got hooked. It was not always true hippotherapy—we had others besides PTs, OTs and SLPs working with patients. And it definitely was not the safest program—we did backriding that was nowhere close to PATH Intl. Standards, and I was allowed in a pasture by myself with a patient on a horse with no training. But I realized there was a positive difference with the horse connection and in adding the horse’s movement to my sessions so that when my daughter was born 17 weeks early in 1997, I told my husband that once she was old enough we had to look into hippotherapy for her."

Most people probably don’t know that Shannon was a competitive baton twirler from ages 6 to 18 and twirled as a Golden Girl at Baylor University! Awesome!

She relays that her, “family’s favorite horse I think will always be Kashan. He was an Arabian that my daughter rode for about three years. He would test her during lessons and make her work for everything, but then at shows his show pony background would come out and he would rise to the occasion. She had a strong connection with him that touched our entire family.”

About a favorite participant? “It’s so hard to pick just one! Currently I have an adult participant who had a stroke about 10 years ago. I saw him as a patient for speech therapy in an outpatient clinic for a while and we made minimal progress. About a year later he showed up at the center I work at and joined my speech caseload there. He is a former rancher so he has a natural seat and riding experience. His sessions have taught me that when we keep the horse walking, his speech and word finding skills improve. He has also impressed me with the progress he has made even being 10 years post stroke. He also seems to always be positive, which always leaves me with a smile after the session.”

Shannon says a lesson she had to learn the hard way is, “Accept your mistakes, be humble and laugh at yourself! There’s nothing like teaching new instructors and therapists and having your own mistakes pointed out. I have definitely learned that when I make a mistake in front of others, like not doing a girth check, it is best to admit the mistake and thank them for keeping us safe. No one is perfect and we all need to help each other!”

She encourages others in the industry to, “Share your knowledge with others! Whether its research, mentoring, experience, new programs or new strategies, share with others both inside and outside of our industry.” Her dream for the future of EAAT? “To have our industry be financially secure so that we are able to work full time in the industry at a competitive salary and so that centers are fully funded to provide the best services to their participants and the best care to their equine partners.” And when she wears her PATH Intl. logo, she feels, “Like a curiosity and then proud. I love when people ask what PATH Intl. is and then say “Oh you do that? That’s so cool!” It’s even better when they then share a story about someone they know who has been helped by our industry or share a connection they’ve had with a horse!”

Thank you, Shannon, for bringing your energy and enthusiasm to PATH Intl.

Not a member yet? Join PATH Intl. today! Click here to see all the benefits a membership provides.



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