| Magazine Feature |

Horsing Around

Meet your new therapist. She can help you with all kinds of problems: improving your physical balance and strength, boosting your self-confidence, and maybe even boosting your grades in school too. True, she can’t talk, and she weighs over 1,000 pounds, but boy can she gallop, trot, and canter. Maybe you’ve guessed it — this “therapist” is actually a horse.

How is that possible? Well, don’t say “neigh” just yet. Even if you don’t think you’re much of a horse person, there’s probably a lot of good a horse can do for you or someone you know.

A Horse, Of Course

You may have heard of riding therapy, horse therapy, hippotherapy, or equine-assisted therapy (“equine” means anything having to do with horses). What they all mean is that horses are helping humans deal with all kinds of mental, physical, and emotional problems.

If the name “hippotherapy” sounds strange, it shouldn’t — in fact, the word “hippo” is Greek for horse (“hippopotamus” comes from two words meaning “river horse”).

Some of these names are better than others. “We don’t refer to it as horse therapy or equine therapy,” says Cher Smith with PATH International, an organization that certifies instructors, specialists, and centers around the US and worldwide. “That sounds like therapy for the horse.” Calling it “riding therapy” isn’t quite right either, Smith says, because it’s about so much more than just riding. Her organization tries to use the term “equine-assisted activities and therapies,” though it’s quite a mouthful. But whatever you call it, experts believe that horses have a lot to give, to people of all ages.

How Horses Help

Therapies and recreational activities with horses range from stroking and grooming them, to carriage driving, which is perfect for people who aren’t strong enough or who, for some other reason, can’t get up on a horse.

“At first they ride with an instructor,” says Smith. “But eventually as part of the lesson goals, you want to get to where the participant can handle the reins and guide the horse. They’re learning how to control the horse, work with the horse.”

Being around horses is nothing new. A quick glance through the Tanach proves that we have lived and worked alongside horses for a very long time. But in the last few years, Smith explains, there’s been an explosion in popularity. “We’ve become more sensitive and more aware of people with special needs. We’re trying to provide them with the best life that they can have.” People are also starting to understand the many physical and emotional benefits of being around horses.

Horse-assisted therapy is usually provided by a registered occupational therapist, physical therapist, or sometimes a speech and language therapist. All these therapists have received special training on providing therapy using horses. They all love being around horses and feel comfortable working with them along with their human clients.

But what if their clients aren’t comfortable around horses?

“I can understand being afraid of a horse!” Smith says. “It’s a 1,000-pound animal.”

(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 733)


Oops! We could not locate your form.