CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For 16-year-old Olivia Eiger, even opening up the mail can sometimes be a bit of a challenge.

Three years ago, and just a few months before Eiger’s father died of Huntington’s disease, Olivia was diagnosed with juvenile Huntington’s disease.

What You Need To Know

  •  Olivia Eiger was diagnosed with juvenile Huntington's disease 3 years ago

  •  Since then, her speech, ability to walk and fine motor skills have all been affected

  •  Her mother found Shining Hope Farms, which specializes in therapeutic exercise using horses

  • With the help of Shining Hope, Olivia is still able to live her life to the fullest.

The disease now affects her speech, ability to walk and fine motor skills.

“She has dystonia,” Olivia’s mother Erika Eiger said. “Which is the tightness of the muscles, and it limits her ability to use her hands. Her fingers have curled, her head is turned, so she needs help with opening things on. She can't write anymore with the pen or pencil. She struggles sometimes with texting, the using of her computer and using all those fine motor skills that we're used to being able to do.”

But one activity still comes somewhat easy to Olivia — her passion for riding horses.

After Olivia’s diagnosis, Erika Eiger looked for alternative methods of therapy. That’s when she stumbled on Shining Hope Farms, a nonprofit horse farm that provides therapy services and therapeutic riding services to their clients.

Once a week, Olivia gets to hop on her favorite horse, Fritz, to spend an hour working on her core muscles, hand-eye coordination and her speech, through hippotherapy.

It doesn’t just help her mobility. Erika Eiger says it’s changed her daughter’s outlook on life.

“Just seeing her light up every time she goes,” Eiger said. “It’s important to her to make that connection and to be there with her physical therapist and the different horses. It's been the best thing in the world for her.”

By continuing to share her story and support Shining Hope through awareness and fundraisers, Olivia hopes to give back to Fritz and his friends the care and compassion they have given to her.

“It has been a blessing,” said Erika Eiger. “This place has been a blessing.” 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, juvenile Huntington’s disease is rare, affecting fewer than 5 in a million kids in America.

There is no cure, and the disease often leads to death within 10 years of onset, according to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.

To learn more about Shining Hope Farms and the programs it offers, or to donate to the care of horses like Fritz, you can check out the website.