up with all kinds of outside stimuli. “The normal farm and family activity does not stop just because I am riding,” Meris notes. “The arena is next to the backyard and basket- ball hoop. It is not unusual for them to be ridden or in cross ties with the lawn mower, weed-wacker, go-carts, soccer balls, bikes, and dogs running around. For me it was not a big hurdle to introduce the therapy props,” she says. To prepare Zayla and

Zayla during a hippotherapy session.

Hero for their first therapy sessions with the children, the OT and BCBA therapists brought their own props such as white boards, balls, flashcards and even a trampoline. Meris desensitized them to all the props and noises and refreshed them on long lining. “Both horses are very smart, which can sometimes bring chal- lenges,” Meris admits, “but it is an advan- tage with this type of training because it didn’t need a lot of repetition.” Most of the training went very well, but some of the stranger props puzzled the horses. “Zayla couldn’t figure out the bubbles and was always worried about them,” she adds. Meris keeps a specific grooming area and paddock dedicated to therapy. She only does walk work in the therapy area and regularly runs Zayla and Hero through mock lessons.

that height may bring, Meris says “you don’t always get the movement you want on a shorter horse.” And, since move- ment is key, sometimes bigger horses are better suited to hippotherapy.

Many horses have the ability to “Both horses are

attractive, personable, sensitive yet not over reactive.”

become hippotherapy superstars. While trail horses are often the type of horse donated to therapy programs, therapy work is particularly suitable for retired dressage and show horses, or for horses like Zayla and Hero, whose ‘side jobs’ enhance their training and add ‘super- horse’ to their resume. All the stimuli they have been exposed to, such as

large crowds, announcers, arena decorations, grooms, multiple handlers, etc., together with the smooth move- ment that helps makes them successful in the show ring, combine to make them ideal candidates.

Magical Movement Movement is an important focus in hippotherapy. Using Warmbloods, especially ones trained for dressage, has been a huge advantage according to Meris. The American Hippo- therapy Association states that specific selection criteria regarding movement quality, temperament and training must be met in order for a horse to be considered for use in physical, occupational or speech therapy. Accordingly, both Zayla and Hero have high-quality movement, and Meris notes that “their tempo can be easily adjusted to meet the needs of the session. Both horses are attractive, personable, sensitive yet not over reactive.” This makes them particularly effective and well-suited for hippotherapy. Because the aim of her program is to use horses as a dynamic moving platform, Meris says choosing Warm- bloods is a smart choice. “Movement is so important in what we do,” she explains. The biggest obstacle with Warmbloods is their height. At 16.2 hands, Zayla is taller than the typical therapy horse, but Meris says her height doesn’t bother the children and is only a challenge to the side walkers (helpers who walk next to the rider during a session for their safety). Despite any added difficulties

Many Benefits Therapy work can be less physically demanding than a competitive career, making it a good potential choice for a sport horse getting ready to retire, or one who benefits from having a break in his regular training. Most therapy horses enjoy the extra attention they get; therapy horse candidates must be okay with having many people around them while they work. Participation in hippotherapy can also be a rewarding

experience for trainers. It’s a wonderful way to help children and adults with unique needs. Zayla and Hero appear to genuinely enjoy their involve-

ment in the therapy sessions. “Overall,” Meris says, “this has enhanced their training. It has exposed them to new things. It demonstrates how good dressage training can be applied to different situations.” Kudos to Zayla, Hero and their owner Meris who are helping these children with special needs develop the skills necessary to cope with the challenges of everyday life— one big, beautiful step at a time.

Warmbloods Today 53

Irene Williams

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