When I tell people I’m involved with equine therapy, the first question I usually get is ‘How can horses provide therapy?’ That usually leads to me rambling on about my weekly volunteer duties, but the long story short is that horses are very effective therapy tools for people of all ages who live with a wide range of both psychical and mental impairments. The simplest, most scientific reason for this is because when a human rides a horse, the movement of the horse’s pelvis forces the human’s pelvis to move in the same fashion. This works toward retraining the human body to move properly.
There are also many benefits beyond the physicality of riding, which include improvements in vocalization, an increase in self-confidence, a feeling of belonging for people who often don’t have that luxury, and many more. The ability of a handicapped person to control a 1,200-pound animal gives them the strength and courage to be their very best. The results of therapy riding are immediate and consistent. I’ve seen kids take their first steps and I’ve heard kids say their first words – all with the help of our wonderful therapists, the horses, and of course, the lesson instructors.
Though we consider the horses to be our most useful tool in improving the riders’ lives, we also use special equipment to help the riders achieve their goals. Most of this equipment is worn by the horse as part of its tack (which means the saddle, bridle, stirrups, etc.). There are many different tack pieces that volunteers become acquainted with; but apart from tack, the processes of mounting, lessons, and dismounting differ vastly from the processes at your everyday barn. Volunteers are schooled in the methods of therapy barns so they can help riders reach the maximum results.
I bet all this sounds great, right? Well, one thing to keep in mind is that therapy barns are fueled by kind-hearted volunteers. The volunteers participate in lessons, fundraising, horse shows, events, and various other activities. Horse therapy simply cannot exist without the help and time of the people of the community. That being said, costs are kept as low as possible at therapy barns, which makes room for scholarship programs for riders whose families need a little extra help. The majority of the money raised at therapy barns goes toward caring for the horses facilities and rider scholarship programs. All this to say, if this sounds interesting to you, we’d love your help, and if you know someone who could benefit by riding but is worried about the cost of weekly lessons, we can help them out.
The last thing that’s important to understand about a therapy barn is that it’s a safe haven. Many of the riders live difficult lives, under the scrutiny of their classmates and co-workers. The barn is a place where they are accepted unconditionally. They are able to excel in a sport and spend time with their friends and families without the worries of the judgmental public eye. Everyone involved at a therapy barn becomes one big family that shares the same goal – improving the lives of those who need our support the most. And our family is always open for new members to join.
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