Special Reports

Bend boy with Olympic spirit overcomes challenges

Seven-year-old makes major gains aboard gentle horse

Bend boy finds special place to succeed

BEND, Ore. - What if you couldn't even crawl? Or had the hardest time putting together words to form a sentence?

What if all the other kids around you were developing at the right pace, but your parents had to celebrate each word or movement as a huge milestone?

That's what it's like living with cerebral palsy, a condition that attacks your sight, speech and nervous system. But a Bend 7-year-old who has it, has found a place that has helped bring him motor skills and confidence -- all thanks to an animal.

"Can you wave at Nina? Can you smile and wave? Yay!!" That's mom Jinger Cain as she walks alongside her son as he rides a horse in front of our news camera.

The fact that he put together that question she asked and the correct hand movement is incredible for 7-year-old Dylan Cain, and something his parents never take for granted.

Dylan was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, and was without oxygen for several minutes. But it was only when he was about 4 months old that parents Mark and Jinger knew something wasn't right. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

"We celebrate the little milestones, the things a lot of parents kind of brush over -- 'Oh they're doing that, no big deal' -- we celebrate those," says Mark Cain as he looks up at his son sitting in the horse saddle.

Dylan uses a wheelchair and a walker to get around. It's not clear how much or how far he can see, but his vision has gotten better over time. But it's his speech and motor skills that have been affected by cerebral palsy the most.

"The balance in his brain," explains Jinger, "that's a portion of his brain that just didn't get developed, and so we have to go back and get that for him."

That's why the Cains started coming to Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch in Tumalo. Trainer Marshall Teague has been working with Dylan for a little over two years.

Teague explains, ."We use horses as a vehicle to foster a mentoring relationship with the kids."

But Dylan is not a typical Crystal Peaks kid. The non-profit takes rehabbed horses with tough pasts of either neglect or abuse and pairs them with kids of similar backgrounds.

Horses like Remnant, who was stranded in flood waters and debris in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Remnant was rescued from stagnant water up to his belly and logs trapping him in the water, but developed a lung issue because of mold.

His owners were loving people, but veterinarians told them that if they loved Remnant, that they would send him to live in a drier climate. So he was trucked out to Oregon and Crystal Peaks to live out his life.

Under the guise of fun, and being around animals, the teens work on communication, confidence and self-respect.

With Dylan, though, the mission is a lot simpler. "With Dylan, the horses movement is huge," explains Teague. "It's a new thing to engage as far as balance, as far as spatial awareness."

Dylan and his parents bring him out weekly, and he has learned to tell the horse to "go" and "giddy-up." He can now balance and shift his weight in the saddle on his own.

With the very long term goal of riding completely unassisted and, of course, walking. Dylan is making steady progress on his core strength -- and loving every second of it, laughing uncontrollably when Remnant likes to kick around a giant-sized soccer ball with Dylan on his back.

"Over 2 1/2 years, seeing him actually -- seeing his language change, his diction change, watching his balance improve -- not just improve, but really improve, has been amazing," Teague says.

"We've always believed in these changes," says Jinger. "We just didn't know when they would come. Some of them are farther out than what we thought. I think walking is a little farther out than we thought it would be."

Mark and Jinger sacrificed their lives in Corvallis to move to Bend for the hyperbaric chamber at Bend Memorial Clinic that they say is responsible for helping Dylan's vision. They've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on therapists and doctors and stem cells.

But it's the no-cost horses and people at non-profit Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch, where he can get help and just be a kid, that's been the most rewarding.

"You do what you have to do," says Mark. "It's just a matter of getting him well, and giving him the best chance he has to have quality of life, that's our goa. So when he's 18, to know we did everything we could to make him well."

The Cain family has set up an incredible website about their son and his treatments and how families can thrive despite cerebral palsy. It's www.alittleboysjourney.com

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