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Special Horse Riding

Updated on March 30, 2015
Riding Brego with the volunteer instructor and helper
Riding Brego with the volunteer instructor and helper
Boys, helpers and staff from Balloonagh Autisitic Dept Tralee
Boys, helpers and staff from Balloonagh Autisitic Dept Tralee

Years ago I kind of got landed with running an equestrian centre in the beautiful heritage town of listowel, County Kerry. I discovered something incredible within this old run down place that will stay with me forever.

Originally I had no real knowledge of horses however my children had a pony each kept at this centre, with no land of our own and no alternative we leased the centre to keep our girls happy.

My family loved to help animals of all kinds, dogs kittens and now horses and ponies that needed a helping hand. It was not long before five such large horses and ponies landed in the stables in a desperate state in need of urgent help.

I did not have the background to know immediately what to do but I did have the sense to find someone who did. This was truly a case of being dropped in the deep end, so with the help of a good local feed expert to whom I shall be ever indebted (she works with Kerry ingredients) I learnt the importance of winter feed and care.

This basic little stable set up taught me a huge amount about the people that gravitate towards horses, those with absolute passion who understand how these horses are so worthy of our honest care and attention and how much they can give back to the community.

Passion meeting one of the students
Passion meeting one of the students

The Power of Touch

Let me tell you a little story about a child that came into us every week from the local special needs school. He would not come in and walked around outside with his carer.

I was told he could not stand to touch anything, he did not like mess or durt or the feel of things and not to worry.

Of course a riding school has an aroma only an animal lover or perhaps gardener would like and many things around like hay and straw that have a distinct feel.

Any way after several weeks he chose to venture inside and then out again but finally he ventured up to one of our largest oldest horses a Clydesdale named Passion.

Well you had to be there to see it, he reached out and touched her, she responded and he did not pull his hand away going on to feel her mane a harder wirey feel compared to her warm soft neck and he let her mane rest upon his face, even smelling her.

He turned and actually smiled it was incredible, no words, but an amazing breakthrough causing tears to well up in his carers eyes. We never got him to ride a horse but he did hold the lead rope and walk around the arena with his carer and helpers and Passion dutifully followed the very act of leading a huge animal around we could see had a great effect.

Leading the horses back to the field
Leading the horses back to the field
Steering the horse
Steering the horse

Bitless Bridles

During the running of the centre I had the pleasure of visiting the Festina Lente in Bray, a very well established special needs riding school of many years.

It was a lovely visit, I met some of the helpers and learnt a lot from a good horsemanship demonstration. Here I was also shown the use of bitless bridles for the first time and felt this was the right way for us to go.

The bitlless bridle is exactly what it says, a bridle without a bit. When you put it on the only way I can describe it is like steering your horse with pressure points on the top of the head and each side of the nose.

With special needs riding we found that riders wanted to hold the rains but often would pull at the mouths of the ever patient horses and sometimes hurt them. The bitless bridle stops this.

We would put an ordinary head collar on the horse and then the bitless bridle over the top. We then attached the lead rope to the head collar thus allowing the leader to always keep control of the horse. With the bitless bridal the rider can then be given the reigns and learn to hold them correctly once they get the confidence to let go of the saddle.

We could then get some of the more advanced riders to actually steer the horse themselves through the cones we placed in the arena. The thrill for the riders speaks for itself as whichever way they made the horse go, he would go and they soon realised that everything they did upon that horse had a consiquence, a reaction, causing a movement.

We progressed with these bridles so much that all the children coming to the centre always used them and found that one of our more difficult ponies who was prone to persistently get his tongue over the bit was suddenly happy and easy to use.

Body Temperature and Relaxation

One of the fascinating facts I learnt whilst running this centre was that the temperature of a horse is one degree higher than our own and this can be felt when a rider sits upon the animal with no saddle.

The physiotherapy of this is a relaxation of the muscles in the tops of the legs helping to sooth an array of issues.

Horses are amazing, they can almost read our minds. If we are angry they will respond, if we are calm they give us more and if we are depressed and anxious they will help. The horses in the centre also had the ability to understand if the rider upon their back was a dissabled rider or an able bodied rider, I have been told this is because they, like dogs can tell if a person has missing chromasomes.

Not all horses are suitable for this therapy, I found the coloured cobs here to be the best, usually older animals, but this is only my view from my particular experience, all horses have their own personality and cannot be grouped regarding behaviour.

I ran the centre from 2006 until the end of 2009 then the resession hit and things changed.

What I witnessed in communication between the animal and the rider will always stay with me along with a far greater understanding and respect of an amasingly truthful, trusting animal with so much to offer.

If you are struggling to communicate with your child take a look at the RDA and RDAI links here and find a group in your area, go along and see for yourself.


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    • renee21 profile image

      renee21 2 years ago

      Awesome! I love it that horses can help with mental and physical issues. Great hub!