PROSPERITY — Seven-year-old Eliana Peterson has found a wealth of opportunity at the end of her Rein-Bows, adaptive devices she uses for riding lessons at Camp Horseshoe Equestrian Center.
At birth, Elie suffered nerve damage to her left hand called brachial plexus. Brachial plexus has three degrees, of which her impairment was the most severe.
The nerve injury limits her left hand strength and functionality but the difference does not limit her riding ability, thanks to Rein-Bows.
Camp Horseshoe owner Wilton Dennis saw the issues with her grip strength and designed a device to add a loop to Elie’s reins.
When results were encouraging, her mother, Dr. Lisa Heichberger, searched online and ordered the Rein-Bows, which attach to regular horse reins and have a quick release in case of emergency.
With the devices, which look like loops on the end of the reins, Elie can guide the horse using her hands and fingers or with the reins draped over her wrists.
She has better control on trails using the Rein-Bows, which she places on each rein to keep the grip even though she can ride a Western saddle without them. She competes using an English saddle, which requires both hands on the reins.
The reins work so well that she does not mention her hand when talking about riding.
“I sit up tall and hold my toes out and up with my heels down in the stirrups,” she said. “You have to kick with your heels or tell the horse what to do.”
For Elie, riding is a typical childhood hobby. Her older sister Grace started attending Camp Horseshoe and loved it so much she asked her parents for riding lessons.
Elie came along while Grace practiced, and watched for a few years. When she became big enough, she started taking lessons, too.
Elie, now a first-grader at Chapin Elementary School, has been riding horses for about a year and bonded with Mekinz, a quarter horse with whom Elie always is paired. She rides on the English saddle doing walks and trots.
She does not do jumps or take the horse up to a cantor, a faster pace her 10-year-old sister can do as she rides a quarter horse pony named October Blue.
Riding lessons are not all riding time. When the girls arrive, they help tie up the horses, get tack ready, brush the horses down and clean their hooves. They put salve on the hooves, too. With the preparations done, they ride.
The family travels around the region so the girls can compete in riding competitions. Using the Rein-Bows, Elie won ribbons in her first riding competition.
In her most recent show in Camden around 100 horses competed and Elie was right in the mix with other riders thanks to coaching, skill and poise.
Both girls are adopted although Elie’s journey to her family took much longer than Grace’s, whose adoption was private and in the United States. For Elie, a native of China, adoption took nearly three years from the time the initial paperwork was filed.
The adoption was a dream come true for her mother who wanted to adopt a child from China after she learned about Chinese dynasties in high school.
At the time Russian adoption policies changed, so more Chinese adoptions were happening. That meant a prolonged wait for Mark Peterson, his wife and daughter.
The Petersons were given the options to change countries, to add a country or to consider adopting a child with special needs.
For Heichberger that meant a difficult phone consultation where a counselor marked off conditions on a checklist, conditions the Petersons would accept a child with. The checklist was never filed. The counselor called the next day and said she had a child she thought would be a good fit.
That night, Grace went to sleep holding the picture of the girl who would become her new sister.
“God is answered beautifully”
As the Petersons learned more about Elie through the HOLT International Adoption Organization, and eventually traveled to China to adopt her, they were impressed with the exceptional care she received from her Chinese foster mother.
Her foster mother worked with the arm, massaging it to desensitize it and she worked with her to grasp small objects like pens.
“We could tell she was well cared for by her foster parents and loved and spoiled. She would eat only if she sat on my lap, not a high chair. And at 15 months she knew some English.”
They learned from the foster mother that Elie’s Chinese name means red beautiful plum, for her red rosy cheeks.
Mark and Lisa gave her an American name that retained part of the Chinese meaning and added one of their own.
Her name, Eliana Mei, means “God is answered beautifully.”
Her parents say the name fits, especially when they see her achieve. Elie has worked with occupational therapist Sarah Bickley from Newberry County Memorial Hospital using splints and doing range of motion exercises and works with the Chapin school district on activities like cutting with scissors or writing.
She will have surgery this fall to help with range of motion in her left shoulder. Another surgery will happen the following summer on her hands to make them the best they can be despite the nerve issues.