Horses bring hope and healing to young cancer patients

MAHWAH, N.J. -- In New Jersey, a little girl who has been battling cancer is starting third-grade this week, after she couldn’t go to school last year. 

Kaia Carroll recently discovered the healing power of horses, and said she hasn’t had this much fun in months. The eight-year-old has a rare form of Leukemia. The last year of her life has been a blur of doctors, hospitals and chemotherapy.

“This week I felt good I wasn’t really nauseous and I wasn’t in any pain really,” she said. 


Eight-year-old Kaia Carroll. 

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Kaia and 19 other young patients took part in Pony Power Therapies in New Jersey’s Ramapo Mountains.

Patients and their families learn to ride and care for horses.

Hackensack University Medical Center sponsors the intensive four-day program. 

“Lots of joy on the farm,” said Dana Spett of Pony Power Therapies. “There’s some exercise, we are getting dirty, so there’s just endless opportunities between physical and emotional, recreational, social.” 

Despite their size and strength, horses tend to be very calm. Studies have shown children who spend time with them have lower levels of stress.


Kaia Carroll pets a horse. 

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Pediatrician Stephen Percy said riding also helps build muscle and coordination.

“Particularly with kids who have developmental disabilities and may have issues with walking, to get them on the animals and to be moving limbs in a different way has really helped them,” he said. 

Kaia has also regained something her parents longed to get back.

“This has brought so much happiness to her,” her mother Darlene said. “She’s looked forward to this for so long. It’s just really nice to know these opportunities are there for them to make them feel special.”