This story about Therapy Horses was published in Natural Horse Magazine in the Oct/Nov/Dec issue 2012. In that story I also included some of my "Therapy For Therapy Horses" exercises. I hope you'll enjoy this story and perhaps find a way you can – Help Therapy Horses Help …
Hippocrates wrote about the benefits of horseback riding for physical therapy, over 3,000 years ago. Hippo is the Greek word for horse. He actually wrote how a rider's pelvis, legs and feet move in synchronization with a walking horse. Thousands of years later this was proven scientifically.
Equine assisted therapy, or Hippotherapy, is an important, and thankfully, growing form of therapy used to help people of all ages improve and enrich their lives. According to Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International's (PATH Intl.) website www.pathintl.org there are over 800 member centers around the globe with an estimated 42,000 student participants, 3,500 instructors 30,000 volunteers annually. And 6,300 equines. There are many others as well, but I wanted to be able to site a few actual numbers. I read once that in the US alone there are over 900 organizations or centers founded to offer equine assisted therapy.
|Kids Love Their Therapy Horses|
Equine assisted "physical therapy" is used for everything from spinal cord injuries, to stroke victims, to wounded Veterans and skeletal and muscular diseases in children and adults. But seeing the equine/human connection and the ability of the spirit of the horse to touch lives, many therapists began to experiment. They began to use horses to aid in therapies not only related to physical rehabilitation but mental and behavioral health as well.
Therapy horses are incredibly valuable and helpful in so many different ways and for so many different treatments. More and more therapists are finding new and exciting results with not only physical but mental stress and confusion, too. The spirit of the horse connects with the spirit of the person as she visits with or rides a therapy horse.
Many equine assisted therapy centers seek out certain breeds for their therapy horses. For some it's heavy horses, or drafts. For others Haflingers, Icelandic's or Fjords, for their strength in more compact bodies. Many use their own horses. Still others rely on donated horses; many of these have injuries or ailments that end their previous careers. During interviews I've conducted with therapists and equine assisted therapy center owners I've been told about one horse in 25 can be a therapy horse. I suppose it is the same as, not every person can be a therapist, either. I wonder what that ratio would be.
Those wonderful and giving horses who become therapy horses have the inner will to care more about their rider than they do their own body. More than that, they must be aware of, not only their rider, but the therapist, the leader and sidewalkers. I've heard them called, martyrs, in that they will ignore their own needs, or ailments in favor of taking care of those all around them.
|She's doing her job and taking care of 4 people at the same time.|
Ever aware of those around them, and those who need their support, these remarkable horses often make sacrifices in their movements and can become out of alignment themselves. This causes them to often walk in ways that may not allow free movement, and causes them to be heavy on their forehand, inverted, dropped at the withers and tight in the hind end. This may begin to affect their temperament and they get retired with the thought they are, burned out, or tired of it. That may be the case, sometimes. I chose to write this article, because I don't believe it is the case all the time. Or even most of the time.
|My mare, Kessy, enjoys a little release from the "Poll Wiggle." Lightly place your hand on the poll, wiggle gently. I like to hold the halter as shown so when they release you can help support.|
Therapy horses can greatly benefit from a little therapy of their own and remain happily on the job for many years. One important thing many folks do with their therapy horses is to take them on regular trail rides. Trail riding is perhaps the easiest form of therapy for the horse and it is not only terrific for the horse's body in that he will be allowed to walk along freely, and even run, but it is great for his mind, too. Stretch those legs, get the heart pumping and take deep breaths. Some centers have set up regular rotations for volunteers to take their horses on trail rides.
|Kessy & me demonstrating the, "Rock Back." With a slight touch ask for the horse to "rock back" off their forehand. This can easily be done while the therapy horse is standing still during therapy sessions and does so much to help their backs.|
Hands-on therapy for the horses is important, too. Simple to do exercises to release the poll, soften the inversion muscles and a variety of other tension releasing routines to loosen their stifle and stretch their legs, will help keep a therapy horse happy and in shape. These easy to do exercises should be part of the daily warm up routine. Remember, therapy horses meet new riders who are seeking benefits from the horse all the time. It is different from the horse who has one rider and together they can get into a comfortable and reliable relationship as they explore the world.
Some centers incorporate not only their volunteers and therapists in the therapy-for-therapy-horse sessions, but the students and clients too. A sort of mutual therapy!
I offer free clinics teaching these easy to learn and easy to do exercises to folks at therapeutic riding centers.
The world is a better place because of these wonderful people and horses and we thank them for their tireless efforts. The spirit of the horse touches so many lives, heals so many hearts and builds smiles on thousands of faces. If you have the chance, hug a therapy horse.
Pictures curiosity of Heartland Horse Heroes Appomattox VA and Kessy & me.