Name: Catherine Coleman MS, CCC-SLP
Position: Owner, Coleman Therapy Center
Hometown: Centreville, Va.
Boots, belt buckle, and even a cowboy hat—Catherine Coleman walks the walk and talks the talk when it comes to working with clients and horses at the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program (NVTRP). An associate of the Northern Virginia-based riding center for the past five years, Coleman has taken every training session offered through the riding center, has pursued additional hippotherapy training in Maryland and upstate New York, and now is even plotting to buy a horse for herself sometime in the next year.
Catherine Coleman, MS, CCC-SLP
"This thing with horses has kind of taken over my whole lifestyle," she laughs, referring to her professional attire. "It's kind of surprising."
Coleman's ease on the horse farm and interest in horses are new twists in her life and profession. She never lived in the country, never rode horses, and, quite frankly, never had considered the possibility of doing either. She grew up in the very urban environment of Northern Virginia, daughter of a Fairfax County police officer, and was a self-proclaimed "city girl" through and through.
As a child, she was first exposed to speech-language pathology because she couldn't pronounce her /r/ sound. As a young adult and student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., she was looking for a career in which she could help people, and after a couple of communication science classes, she'd found her calling. She spent years working in nursing homes, at universities, and finally in private practice, perfecting her treatment skills. Then, one summer five years ago, she encountered a true challenge.
"I was working at a camp where they had horses out back, and there was this boy who just wasn't responding," she recalls. "I had tried everything in my toolbox and nothing could get him to talk. So finally I decided to take him out back to look at the horses while I plotted my next strategy. And that's when the language came: ‘I want horse! Bring me horse!' It was amazing."
The experience was so eye-opening, she decided to investigate. She contacted NVTRP, a local therapeutic horseback riding clinic, and became a volunteer. Volunteering led her to seek more knowledge and training. She began reading every book about horses she could find. That still wasn't enough to satisfy her curiosity, so she began to pursue levels one and two hippotherapy training through the American Hippotherapy Association. Two years ago, she began incoporating horses into her work with some of her clients. The results, she says, keep her moving forward.
"Just like I'd use a therapy ball in my clinic, for some of my clients, I use a horse. The horse is just a tool," she says. "It's not for everyone, but for those who aren't motivated in the clinic, or have the right set of needs, the motivation to get the horse to go or stop is undeniable."
Coleman's involvement in and respect for the horse-riding community continues to grow. In addition to joining the NVTRP's board of directors, she is helping the organization start a therapy center that will include, among other treatment options, speech-language treatment and hippotherapy. Her 11-year-old son has been accompanying her to the farm on the weekends and is just now beginning to ride. Coleman reports that he's still understandably apprehensive, but she's hoping that will change once the family purchases a horse.
"He's been on a few times, but I think once we have our own—after I talk my husband into it—he'll get to the point where he will just jump on and go."
Catherine Coleman, MS, CCC-SLP, owns the Coleman Therapy Center in Centreville, Va. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.