My name is Josie Adair, I am a South African Therapeutic Horse Riding Association qualified equi-therapist. I am in my fifth year of teaching horse riding to children and adults of various abilities, and I am in awe of the changes that I have seen in so many people through this form of therapy.
I was born and grew up in England, and my journey with horses began at the merry old age of 5. I rode for a few years, lost interest, got into dance classes, realised that that wasn’t for me, moved to South Africa at the age of 9 and met my instructor: Linkey Jones. That was when I fell in love with the sport all over again. I began teaching young children under Linkey’s instruction and after a year or so I found my first special needs client. She was the cutest 18 month old I’d ever seen with the curliest blonde hair; and she had cerebral palsy. She could barely hold up her own head, so she and her mum rode together. Little by little she grew stronger and stronger, and now, 3 or so years later, she walks, she runs, she sits on the horse’s back singing at the top of her lungs. And this is how I knew that I wanted to be an equi-therapist.
I became more involved with the few special needs clients that we had, and met Diane, the founder of the ETHAN (Education and Training Hub for Autism Needs) project, who helped me to enroll in some short courses on neurodevelopmental disorders.
I then was asked to apply at a preschool as a teaching assistant, and my whole take on horse riding shifted once again – why just use therapeutic horse riding for children and adults with special needs and disabilities, when you can also use it for establishing school readiness and fundamental development in each and any child.
To this day my qualifications include: SATRA equi-therapist (passed with distinctions); HANDLE inst. (Holistic Approach to Neuro Development and Learning Efficiency) level one therapist; UNISA (University of South Africa) practitioners in early childhood development diploma (passed with distinctions) and EQASA (Equestrian Qualification Association of South Africa) level one and two.
The difference between therapeutic horse riding and hippotherapy:
Therapeutic Horse Riding is a form of therapy where the horse is used as a tool. The patient sits on the horse’s back, and while the horse is moving, performs exercises and games given by the equi-therapist, with a number of different apparatus and equipment. This is the means of therapy that I am qualified in.
In hippotherapy the patient is also mounted on the horse. It is conducted by a horse specialist or an equi-therapist as well as another therapist – for example this person may be an occupational therapist or a speech therapist – while the horse is moving, the therapists specialty of therapy is conducted. This is used as the movement of the horse stimulates the vestibular system and readies the senses and brain to receive information.
Why Therapeutic Horse Riding?
I love therapeutic horse riding. I enjoy my sessions just as much as my clients! First I will answer the question of why we use horses, and then we I will list some of the benefits specific to the style of therapeutic horse riding that I do.
Horses are incredible. That is why. But more specifically, there are a few areas that horses cannot be competed with by any other therapy.
Horses are herd animals, they communicate with each other through body language, and when a horse accepts you they communicate with you also. Although there is no way of proving this, I believe that horses have all of the emotions that people have – happiness, sadness, anger, annoyance, empathy, fear, embarrassment and the list goes on. Because of this a horse expert can see exactly what the horses are feeling. Horses have a unique ability of being able to mirror what a person is feeling. Through this, I can see the person’s emotions and feelings, without them having to tell me. This is such an amazing opportunity as a therapist, as many people don’t understand their feelings or even don’t want to tell you their feelings.
Horses make a big impact. I have never experienced someone standing next to a horse without a big response. That response could be fear, excitement, joy; it could be internalised or shown clearly, and all of this is good.
Also, the horse’s movement is a big play into the uniqueness of this therapy. A horses movement is rhythmic and consistent, providing vestibular stimulation with these same characteristics. Rhythmic, consistent stimulation of the vestibular system calms a hyperactive person or stimulates a hypo-active person. The movement of the horses back moves a person’s hips as if they are walking, providing stimulation of these muscles, without impairment and without straining the joints. What a unique opportunity for people who have impaired gaits or are unable to walk to experience.
There is also the sensory aspect, at the stable yard and on the horse’s back there are many opportunities are sensory integration.
Lastly, horse riding is a form of exercise that puts little strain on the joints. Any form of exercise is an outlet for negative emotions and frustrations.
The benefits of therapeutic horse riding include:
· Stimulation of the vestibular system
· Increase or normalisation of muscle tone
· Increase in balance and equilibrium
· Normalisation of reflexes
· Increased trunk rotation
· Sensory integration
· Bilateral motor integration
· Improved eye muscle coordination
· Improvement of speech
· Improvement of proprioception
· Improvment of fine motor skills
· Increased hand-eye coordination
· Improvement of praxis (planning and sequencing)
· Increased laterality
· Hemispheric integration
· Emotion – building of confidence and self-image, an outlet for frustration and negative emotions
There are a few disabilities and conditions that prevent a person from being able to participate in therapeutic horse riding:
• Down’s syndrome with an atlantoaxial instability (all Down’s syndrome patient’s must have X-rays before participating in therapeutic horse riding and a doctor’s declaration that they do not have this problem)
• Arthritis in the acute stage
• Brittle bone disease
• Multiple Scleroses during the acute phase
• Severe Kyphosis and Scoliosis
• Uncontrolled epilepsy
• Unhealed pressure sores
Therapy sessions are 30 minutes long (this is the norm, all my lessons are adaptable) and are very affordable. A brief overview of the lesson shows that roughly 20 minutes are spent doing therapy the other 10 are spent actually riding the horse.
As therapeutic horse riding is fun and children learn a new skill in horse riding, the course of treatment can go on for years. However a minimum of 6 weeks is usually advised. As the person improves and grows more advanced the format of the lesson can change.
For more information don’t hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Sand & Glitter would like to thank Josie Adair for this lovely and very informative article.