Friday, November 1, 2013

Feature Friday- Therapy Horses -

Howdy Folks,
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  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.

Gitty Up
Dutch Henry

Pictures curiosity of Heartland Horse Heroes Appomattox VA and Kessy & me.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick or Treat – How'd That Happen?

Howdy Folks,

Sitting in the barn with Kessy and the critters enjoying our rainy morning Coffee Clutch yesterday, I got to thinking about Halloween. Ravishin' Robbie and I had been chatting about her pumpkin tree, yup, her pumpkin tree. One of Robbie's pumpkin plants had climbed high up a tree, and hanging way up there are three big ol' pumpkins. Her pumpkin tree is a sight to see and made me wonder if the tree was going trick-or-treating as a pumpkin patch, or the pumpkin vine was going as a tree? Neither answered me, and their silence made me wonder, how did trick-or-treat ever get started?

So I asked Mr. Google. That's what our Granddaughter says. She's seven. Mr. Google did offer a few suggestions.

Seems Trick-or-Treat has been around for a long time. A really long time. Some say it can trace its roots all the way to the Celts who lived in an area that is now the UK, Ireland and Northern France, more than 2,000 years ago and celebrated the night of Oct 31, in a festival they called Samhain. They believed the dead could return during Samhain and they gathered for bonfires and feasts. But to ward off the unwelcomed dead they would dress in costumes of animal hide and set out bowls of food to offer treats.
Samhain celebration
By the ninth century Christianity had moved into Celtic lands and began to blend with the ancient pagan beliefs. Around 1,000 AD the church designated Nov 2 as "Old Souls Day" a celebration of the dead. In a modification of the Samhain festival, poor people would visit the homes of wealthy people and offer to pray for the dead relatives in exchange for, "soul cakes." That evolved over time to "souling" when children would go door to door asking for food and money. Children in Scotland would dress up for a night of "guising" and visit homes not offering to pray for the dead, but sing songs in exchange for treats such as milk, fruits or coins.

Then there's also the Guy Fawkes Night celebration – Nov 5 – In 1605 Guy Fawks hatched a plan to blow up Parliament with the King's gunpowder and remove King James I (a Protestant) from power. His Catholic led plot was foiled and Guy Fawks executed. This gave birth to an annual celebration of "BoneFires" where in effigy; the bones of the Pope are burned each Nov 5. By the 19th century children carried Fawks dolls through the streets on Nov 5 asking for "a penny for the Guy."
Guy Fawks Day
Along with the early colonists coming to America came versions of these celebrations; including the popular Scottish custom of, "Guising" – children went door to door in disguise seeking gifts and food. In the early 20th century some Scottish immigrates even revived the practice of souling. By the roaring twenties "Halloweening" including pranks had begun to become popular.
It seems the first use of the phrase "Trick-Or-Treat" might have been in an Alberta newspaper in 1927. Almost all pre-1940 uses of the phrase, "trick or treat" come from western US and Canada. The children's magazine, "Jack and Jill" may have been the first to launch national recognition of the term, and practice, when they featured "trick or treating," in their Oct 1947 issue. Trick or treating was featured in the Peanuts comic strip in 1951. Walt Disney featured it in a 1952 comic strip, and by then it so firmly established as an American tradition even the Ozzie and Harriet show was beset by hordes of "trick or treaters" that same year. 
One quarter of all candy sold in the US is purchased for Halloween.
So there ya have it. Mr. Google, The History Channel Blog, and Wikipedia have helped us learn a bit about what has now become our second biggest holiday. 

Gitty Up & TRICK-OR-TREAT ~ Dutch Henry

Monday, October 28, 2013

Seeing With Her Feet-A One Step Exercise to help your horse Find Her Feet

Howdy Folks,
A very important and easy thing you can do to help your horse maintain proper posture, soft body carriage, and self awareness, as well as self confidence is a little exercise I call the, "One-Step." This is so easy to learn, and do, and will make such a huge difference in not only the things I've already mentioned, but your horse will start your ride relaxed and confident too.

You see horses, because of the things we ask them to do, often lose connection with their feet. They have that momentum thing down alright. They're going from here to there, but that's just it, it's all about momentum. They see the rail, the jump, the turn in the trail, the cavaleties, the barrels, they see it all, and they're going where you send them … But their energy, their momentum, is flying ahead of them often not aware of their feet. Sometimes they stumble, trip, or feel pushy as you lead ... It's not their fault; it's not a training or discipline issue. It's a physical issue ... They honestly don't know where their feet are. They are unable to "see with their feet" -- because they don't know where they are. This exercise will fix that.

Stand in front of your horse holding the lead softly, and simply ask for "One Step Forward," then stop, and rock back off the forehand. Let her stand and process that feeling of lightly taking only one, easy, soft step. Please note – One Step, is a complete step – One front, and the alternate hind.

When you begin this exercise she will most likely take more than one step, because she'll have the momentum started, just as she's been taught. That's okay, go with it – wherever she stops, tell her good girl, and let her feel the softness. – Then ask for "one step back," the same two feet you had asked her to step forward. Allow her to feel the softness, process the moment, then ask for "one step forward again – allow her to feel it, process it, congratulate her, then one step back again. Repeat forward and back 3 or 4 times, then switch to the other side and do it all over again. You should see her softening overall, and lowering her head ... Remember one step is a complete step, one front and alternate hind each time. 

Don't forget to allow time, every time, for her to process and feel the moment. And don't forget to rock her back off her forehand. (You can add the rock-back later, on another day, if she's having a challenge mastering the "One Step.")

This is one of the exercises I do every time before I step into the saddle, or do any ground work. Once you and your horse master this it'll be a fun and healthy game. You'll feel the difference in everything you do together too. So let's look at a few pictures.
We're all saddled, ready to go, Kessy is standing nicely, and I'm about to ask for one step forward (notice how she is not on her forehand) You can see I'm looking at her left front, sending the signal, before I ask for the step.
Kessy stepped forward with her left front, right hand - and is clearly on her forehand, so I'll ask her to "rock back" and feel the moment, before I ask her to "step back."
Asking Kessy to "Rock Back" feel & process the moment - Then I'll ask her to "Step back." Again, notice it is the left front & right hind that have stepped forward.
And here we are stepping back with the left front & right hind. Notice how she stays off her forehand. If you look closely you'll see I have her ear. We do this so often she does it on voice command.
The more you do the "One Step" the smoother, softer and more confident each step will become, in this exercise, and everywhere else as well. After all, you've helped her find her feet again. … I'll do a post on another day about how we can take this exercise, one step farther ... It's all about, "Seeing with her feet."

I hope you'll have fun with this.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry