De Pere, WI -- There is a special place in De Pere that is giving hope to families who have loved ones with disabilities. They offer a type of therapy that many people consider a miracle.
Maddie Rottier may be in a wheelchair, but at Exceptional Equestrians no one sits on the sidelines.
"They give you hope," said Mary Terrien.
Mary has been bringing her granddaughter to Exceptional Equestrians for hippotherapy for the past six years.
"If Maddie didn't get to ride these horses, she'd be in surgery and surgery is horrid," she explained.
Lisa Kafka founded the non-profit organization in 1999 so families that don't have the means to pay for the services can get them.
"I'm hoping someday to have that objective data in a format that we can say to third party payers, you know, 'Look. This works,'" said Kafka.
She and her team work with children and adults who have physical, cognitive, social and emotional needs. Their conditions range from autism to cerebral palsy to difficulties following a stroke.
"That movement of the horse over time and that repetitiveness of it allows them to kind of relax and gain a lot of mobility," Kafka explained. "We see children being more vocal while they're on the horse. They have better respiration."
They're results that Kafka says are made possible with the help of dedicated volunteers like Birgit Dierberg.
"I'm a retired nurse and I love horses, so it was a perfect fit," Dierberg said.
Passion for the program is also inspiring donors who gave $1.3 million to build a new indoor arena.
"We got the year round barn and we haven't seen a surgeon since for Maddie's muscles. It's a miracle," Terrien said.
Maddie's grandmother says it's also a miracle that the 8-year-old just rode a horse for the first time with no one riding behind her. Her strength and confidence are growing during every session. Terrien believes it's due to the compassionate care Maddie receives at Exceptional Equestrians and her special bond with the horses.
"Everyone here truly loves Maddie and Maddie loves them, and I think that's the piece that's wow."
Maddie's therapists are working towards a goal that, one day, she'll be able to operate her own power chair and use a communication device.
Click here for more information about Exceptional Equestrians.