“Walk On.” And the horse moves forward at the beautiful words lisped by a small child.
There is something so awesome about a tiny person on a horse’s back.
A huge animal whose one wrong move could do tremendous damage to a little body, and yet, he carries that child with gentleness, carefully putting one hoof before the other. The child sits in the saddle, relaxed yet upright, holding the reins and guiding the great equine beneath her.
Then consider that perhaps this child has never spoken in words before. Perhaps the child is riding an animal that performs according to spoken commands, but the rider has no verbal skills. What happens?
In equine therapy, a lot can happen.
A lot of beautiful, first-time-experience kind of things happen.
At The Ranch
Kim volunteers on Saturday mornings at a ranch, helping lead the horses through the paces of equine therapy for small children. Children with special needs.
She tells the story of a ten year old boy with autism. He was non-verbal, and his parents had real questions about how this therapy would be any better than all the other therapies he had been through.
It didn’t take long to find out.
This boy, who was usually not interested in any physical activity and quite unresponsive to what was happening around him, allowed himself to be led up to a large animal for the first time in his life. He quietly accepted being helped into a saddle.
Then the therapist began to work.
“Tell Freckles to “walk on!”
“Say “walk on” to Freckles,” she repeated.
Again no response. But everyone could see that the boy was enjoying himself. He sat quietly, contentedly, which was something that usually didn’t happen for very long periods of time.
The therapist’s helper told the horse to walk on, and Freckles began to move forward, with the boy balanced in the saddle. Freckles moved around the arena according to the therapist’s commands, and then something happened.
At first, the boy began smiling. He looked at his parents as if to say, “Look at me now!”
His parents almost lost it then. He never made eye contact on purpose. This just might work, they thought.
And then, the next time the therapist asked him, they heard the words, “Walk on!”
The first words ever from their ten year old son. It didn’t matter to them that the words were spoken to a horse instead of to them, the parents who poured so much love on their dear child.
And the tears came because their hearts could not contain the joy.
Equine Therapy is a Multi-Benefit Program
There are many benefits to horseback riding therapy. Arizona Horse-Riding Adventures’ web-site lists thirteen:
Therapeutic Benefits of Horseriding
Learning to properly ride a horse offers numerous physical, social, and emotional benefits to the rider. Below are some of those therapeutic benefits.
Improved risk-taking abilities.
Development of patience.
Emotional control and self-discipline. (The rider is in the driver’s seat.)
Development of respect and care for animals.
Stimulates sensory integration.
Improved visual spatial perception.
Improved hand-to-eye coordination.
Improved communication skills and multi-tasking abilities.
Improved strength and conditioning of core muscles.
- Development of leaderships skills.
Therapeutic riding has been recognized for its benefits for over fifty years already. People with emotional, social, or psychological challenges who are taught to guide a horse feel more in control. And that feeling that is often missing in their everyday lives can really empower them and give them a feeling of connection.
Hippotherapy can be diagnosed by a doctor. This treatment is provided by certified therapists in a controlled environment. It is a combination of sensory exercises customized to the needs of the rider. The exercises combined with the rhythm of the horse’s motions help develop balance, strength, coordination and flexibility, which improves neurological function and sensory processing. This can be life changing for a child with Down’s Syndrome or Low Functioning Autism, for example, which are conditions that are often accompanied with poor muscle function.
Kim tried the riding therapy for a while, then found that she preferred helping the children. Her choice activity at the ranch, though, is caring for the horses, feeding them and cleaning their spaces. She prefers to be alone with the animals, and nurturing them. This is more fulfilling to her than riding.
Card of The Week
And that’s why, one day when we were discussing what type of card to make, she said, “I want a card with a horse on it.”
And she preferred the horse to be free, running in the wind, riderless.
Her dream. Riding free of the cares and realities of a confusing life.
You can buy Kim’s “Dream” card in our shop.
Do you have horse stories to share? Therapy or riding adventures or about your own special equine. We’d love to hear them.