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Many times therapy horses must not only deal with sidewalkers but also riders in unbalanced positions. Dealing with unbalanced riders may cause the horse to tweak their spine.


T erapeutic horseback riding took root in Europe in the 1950s and came to the US and Canada sometime in the late 1960s. A few years ago, I had the honor of writing a story about Barb Heine, who in the ‘60s and ‘70s worked tirelessly to promote the use of hippotherapy as an ac- cepted form of physical therapy. T anks to her and many others who shared like beliefs and understanding of the healing power of the horse, today there are hundreds of equine-assist- ed therapy centers across the US where thousands of selfl ess horses are doing their part to help heal children, women and men.

Therapy horses take their

jobs seriously. From the interviews I’ve con- ducted for stories, most folks who know say only about one horse in 25 or 30 has what it takes to become a therapy horse. T ey have a happy but demanding job, and need to pos- sess a way of thinking that puts others fi rst. T erapy horses carry precious cargo and much is expected of them. As they walk along giving healing therapy, they must not only be aware of that precious cargo, who may not be able to sit correctly, use their legs or concentrate, but they must also be careful not to bump the sidewalk- ers, one on each side. T e leader and therapist too must be accounted for with each step. T is can sometimes cause the horse to move in ways that tweak his spine, neck, withers or hips.

This Will Give You

Goose Bumps… A nine-year-old lad, Andrew,

had started to lie down during each therapy session, hugging the horse’s neck. This had become a concern for the occupational therapist. I didn’t know about this until later, but by coincidence I saw one of their horses, Zack, walking with short, choppy strides behind. When they returned Zack to his stall, I went to him and spent about an hour doing exercises to free him from front to back, while fully saddled. He was especially tight in the hind end and loved the release. They called for Zack, I led him out to the arena and they started a session with Andrew. Halfway around the arena Andrew sat up straight and thrust his arm in the air. Everyone cheered excitedly, and I thought it was just part of the support therapy. Later they told me it was because Andrew had not sat up during therapy for months. He felt safe enough to sit up because Zack was walking more smoothly and softly than he had been able to in months.

THERAPY HORSES HAVE CHALLENGING JOBS Equine-assisted therapy programs oſt en include exercises for the participant to do while

sit ing on the horse at a standstill, such as upper body calisthenics, shooting basketball or play- ing catch. T is can be very stressful on a horse’s back. Many times therapy horses are donated

As they go along, therapy

horses must be ever mindful of their rid- ers. Note the

concentration as well as concern on the pony Jo-Jo’s face.


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