Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Helping Hoof

Some of you may have read Jamie Brockett’s recent blog post about Courtney King-Dye’s paradressage horse, Make Lemonade. A part of Courtney’s recovery included some time spent in therapeutic riding. As an FEI level rider, the choice of this type of therapy was not an unexpected one to see from Courtney but using horses for therapy can lend amazing benefits to both seasoned riders and novices alike.

A few weeks ago, I visited Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center, a premier accredited PATH, Intl. riding center in southern Colorado. Since Purina is a corporate partner of PATH, Intl., I wanted to get a better understanding of how these centers were using horses as therapy. Collectively called Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT), the team here runs a variety of programs designed to help people througgh the use of horses.

It was very interesting to learn the many disabilities and challenges EAAT are being used to treat. Anywhere from spinal injuries to congenital disabilities, even emotional trauma has been addressed with the use of horses. Most of us horse owners know the stress relief an afternoon ride can offer and the muscle workout horse ownership in general can provide so it was amazing to see people with no prior horse history be affected and find success in their therapies. Almost every aspect of the horse can be a tool in recovery; their warmth in helping muscles loosen up, their natural gait simulating a person’s, their size in building confidence, even their listening skills give people the encouragement to open up or take an active part in their therapy. These centers have gone through great lengths to adapt the seemingly simple activity of riding or being around a horse so it is accessible to people of all abilities. There are wheel chair ramps modified to be mounting blocks, a full staff of volunteers and specific tack and rider gear to make sure everyone enjoys their experience safely.

Now of course not every horse is a therapy horse and each of these animals is carefully screened and tested to make sure they are fit for the job. The welfare of the horses is also at the top of the priority list; after all they are as crucial to the program as their human therapist counterparts. In addition to all the necessary feeding, farrier and veterinary care these horses need, each horse’s schedule is closely managed to prevent over or under use, each horse has designated tack and equipment to ensure correct fit and each horse get exercised and ridden by staff members to keep them stimulated and in shape. While many of these horses do tend to be a bit more mature and many are in their second careers, it was very clear that size, color, breed and age are not the determining factors as much as whether or not they have what it takes to become a therapy horse.

EAAT is increasingly being recognized for its effectiveness in helping a variety of people. Earlier this year, PATH, Intl. partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project nationwide to help offer EAAT to service personnel. While many centers have been working with members of the military for some time, this partnership will increase the availability of these services.

Those of us who own horses are touched by them every day and know what they bring to our lives. It’s nice to be reminded once in a while that us horse people aren’t crazy; they really are good for the mind, body and soul.

To learn more about PATH, Intl. or to find a center near you, visit www.pathintl.org.

Posted by: Kimberly James

1 comment:

  1. Equine therapy has become trendy these days especially for performance horses. It provides an innovative environment in which the therapist and the patient can identify and address a range of emotional and behavioral challenges.