Horse Therapy For People of All Ages With Special Needs
Interacting With Animals Makes Positive Changes In the Lives of Handicapped People
Animal therapy for a variety of mental, physical, and behavioral disorders has been utilized for quite a while – since sometime in the 1800s. Back then animals often mainly sat beside someone who was sick or recovering from an accident, but now animals are more interactive.
Cognitive, emotional, and physical functioning can be improved through working with animals. Elche’s Río Safari, an animal park and a major tourist stop in Spain, also has an animal therapy program that includes swimming with sea lions. “Dogs, horses, donkeys, sea-lions and dolphins can all help people with physical or mental illnesses,” says Jesús López from the animal therapy society Lealcan, in Spain.
There are some critics of animal assisted therapy programs. There have been complaints that the research data is not the best quality, while other critics say animal therapy works best for short-term, temporary improvement, but does not seem to have long-term, lasting results.
Best Friends in Therapy
Getting Ready to Go to Work
Advantages of Equine Therapy
Animal therapy is of course in use in many of the industrialized countries, not least of all, our own, the USA. One organization that offers therapy through riding a horse and/or driving horse drawn carriages (for people who cannot ride) right here in Texas, is Riding Unlimited. RU is a not for profit organization that serves handicapped individuals ranging in age from 2 years to senior citizens, through their riding programs.
Activities that involve horses have been shown to improve muscle tone, posture, coordination, balance, motor development, and emotional well being for people with various disabilities. Driving a horse also improves to an even greater degree, eye hand coordination and the ability of a person to judge their own location in relation to other objects around them.
By engaging in activities that include either riding a horse or driving a horse drawn carriage, participants learn cooperation, language development, concentration, and at the same time develop self-esteem, and confidence.
Learning to Handle a Horse and Cart
Riding Unlimited in Ponder, Texas
Special Olympics Equestrian Competition and Other Events
Exercises include relay races, ring toss, and obstacle courses. Participants in the program can take part in the yearly Special Olympics Equestrian Competition, exhibition riding, drill team, and carriage driving competitions, among other special events.
Both adults and children with autism, visual or hearing impairment, ADD, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, brain injury, Down’s syndrome, and many other disabilities, can take advantage of this kind of therapy. For people who have severe physical handicaps, knowing freedom from their wheelchairs and walkers for a little while, can be an exhilarating experience.
Jesús López says that people who do their physiotherapy exercises on horseback often make a faster recovery. That is likely in part because of their improved outlook from being involved with an animal that enjoys human contact and has an affectionate nature.
Animal therapy can lift one’s spirits and brighten one’s day, which can in turn make such a difference to people who may otherwise feel they have no hope. That is true not only for people with serious physical and mental disabilities, but also for people who may be suffering from depression.