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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Kansas barrel racer inspired by horse therapy during brain injury recovery

July 13, 2023

Jessica Milliman has been involved in rodeo for as long as she can remember. However, a freak accident at a barrel race event in Gothenburg, Nebraska, earlier this summer left Jessica with several injuries, including brain trauma.

“She was actually on her last horse and was running through the first barrel, and the horse ended up slipping and fell down with her,” Clint Milliman, Jessica’s husband, said.

Jessica and Clint knew she needed to be where she could receive expert medical rehabilitation. The 41-year-old from Hoxie, Kansas, came to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals’ specialized brain injury program to work on her cognition, strength and mobility. Mixed with more traditional therapy, Madonna care teams recognize the importance of incorporating fun and meaningful activities into rehabilitation. Thanks to a partnership with Windsong Equine Therapy, Madonna can have horses visit the campus, which allowed Jessica to work toward some of her goals while doing something she loves.

“We were able to address her balance and mobility, and she was able to groom the horses with both her right and left arms to promote strength and coordination,” Jessica Virgil, a Madonna occupational therapist, said. “She was even able to lead the horse around to challenge her even further.”

“Being around something that I'm familiar with, the horses, just handling them, it made all the difference for me,” Jessica said. “That muscle memory of grooming all those horses was there within me. Being responsive enough to know when you're in their space and how to move around them was really good to have as a therapy.”

Jessica’s goal is to back on her horses and work towards her next barrel race!

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