By Alex Matthews
A teenage girl whose mum was told she would never walk or talk is able to do just that – after being brought up around horses.
Tiffany Heath, 16, was diagnosed with global development disorder as a baby and nearly died of severe asthma attacks multiple times.
Doctors told her mum Lisa Heath, 37, that Tiffany would never be able to move by herself or communicate.
But after being introduced to her Aunt Lucy’s horses Tiffany has grown up beyond her mum’s wildest dreams.
Despite the complications caused by her condition, Tiffany is able to speak, walk and ride horses and is even gearing up to study for an NVQ qualification.
Lisa, from Westerham in Kent, was so inspired by her daughter’s transformation that she and her sister founded a centre for horse therapy to help other children and adults.
The proud mum said: “To a certain extent she was brought up by the horses.
“I was told by doctors there was no way she would ever learn to walk or talk.
“She suffered severe asthma attacks when she was young and nearly died four or five times. She would just stop breathing.
“I thought I was going to be lucky just having her around.
“I took her to several speech therapists and physiotherapists but nothing seemed to work. She was locked in her own little world.
“But when we started coming to see my sister’s new horse Artie she absolutely fell in love with him.
“The first time she met Artie she reached out to stroke his coat, which I was not expecting at all.
“Tiffany was completely non-verbal for years, and then she started making a clicking noise to communicate with the horse. It was amazing.”
From the clicks, Tiffany progressed to sitting on Artie’s back and then becoming increasingly steady on her feet.
Her progress was remarkable and she began taking more and more steps, breaking barriers doctors said would never pass.
Then at seven years old, Tiffany said her first word.
Lisa said: “Once she started walking short distances she was keen to help out with the horses as much as she could.
“She would help with mucking out the stables and brushing the horses’ coats.
“One day she fell down in the stable yard and then called out ‘stuck’.
“I spun round and tried to work out who had said it.
“Then she repeated it and I was stunned when I realised Tiffany was saying her first word. It was incredible.
“I certainly had tears in my eyes.”
Through learning horse based vocabulary, such as ‘walk’ and ‘trot’, Tiffany rapidly expanded her vocabulary.
She also competed at horse riding competitions, where judges stopped penalising her for being unable to speak as they originally had done.
Tiffany began attending a special school, but Lisa says she is most excited when she knows she is going to ride.
She said: “Tiffany gets up early at weekends so she is ready to go riding. She loves being with the horses so much.
“She’s always asking if we can go to the stables.
“We live seven miles away, so it doesn’t take too long to get there and back.
“But if she had the choice I think Tiffany would stay there all the time.
“The relationship she has with the horses is remarkable.”
Inspired by Tiffany’s experience, Lisa and her sister Laura set up TEAL (Therapeutic Equine Assisted Learning) at the stables in Edenbridge, Kent, where Lisa is now a volunteer.
The community interest company has helped over 80 children and adults by providing therapy with the horses.
Therapy session involve the horses in a number of ways, including stroking, riding and even painting them.
The TEAL stables recently started offering an 18-week Stable Management course, an equivalent of an NVQ Level 1 qualification.
Tiffany, who is always keen to volunteer at TEAL and help other children in a similar position, has progressed in her speech and walking to the point she will begin the course in May.
Lisa said: “It’s incredible to think I was told she would never communicate and now she might be awarded a recognised qualification.
“We have had three people take the course so far. It can make a massive difference to people’s lives.
“A lot of the children who come to use do not or will not leave school with exam qualifications, so for them to have something is a huge confidence boost.
“And that helps with college applications to do NVQ Level 2s or even gaining more volunteering experience.
“Seeing the effect working with the horses has on people every day is awe-inspiring.
“Before we took to the stables Tiffany I had no idea what amazing animals they are, but they seem to completely understand everyone that comes to them and show them patience and care.
“We are just hoping we can keep helping other children and adults make progress and enjoy themselves as much as possible.
“I’m sure Tiffany will be here to try and help them all.”