SPOTLIGHT ON: Animal Therapy – Equine Therapy
My name is Anna and I am a British expat who has lived here in Luxembourg for 2.5 years. I was asked to write an article around the benefits of having children around horses. I thought this was a great idea as I think horses are fantastic, and as I currently I run my own business where I offer riding lessons to children aged 2-12 years, I guess I am the right person to ask. However, I like to think that actually I offer more than just a riding lesson … I offer the children a chance to build a relationship with the ponies and have an ‘experience’. This can be achieved by teaching them all about ponies: how to clean them, ride them, feed them and act around them. This hands-on interaction with horses (all credit to other animals too like dogs) is known to have many positive effects on children’s personal development. Before I go into more detail, let me tell you a little about myself.
I went to university and studied Psychology (of course my horse came with me!) After graduating, I worked with kids who had a range of difficulties… from those who had emotional and behaviour issues like dyslexia, ADHD or autism, to those who were asylum seekers or at risk of committing crime, to kids who were just feeling that life was tough. The kids loved to meet my horse, even for the briefest moment. Sometimes I even managed to take the kids horse riding under social services, as it could be listed as a positive activity in their life.
I believe, (and of course others do too) that horses are very special animals. Just look at the important roles they have played throughout human history – did you see the film War Horse? – and they continue to be predominant in today’s society. If you look deeper, it would be true to say that each horse has a unique personality, and that they have a way of communicating with each other (just like people), therefore it is possible to learn to understand what a horse is thinking or going to do by learning how to read their body language. Monty Roberts is a well-known Californian Horse Whisperer who says it is possible to create a bond, a relationship with these big and powerful creatures (or in my case, the small and powerful ones). He is most definitely correct. Horses are intelligent creatures who, when we are around them, they reflect our emotions and can sense how we are feeling. In my opinion, horses can bring out the best in anyone and everyone.
The idea of using horses for therapy has increased with thanks to various organisations such as The Riding For the Disabled Association (RDA), and Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (Eagala). Equine Therapy is now used around the world to try and increase social and emotional well-being, cognitive and behavioural abilities and to help people with physical disabilities. Other more complex psychotherapies exist too. It has been clinically proven that when in the presence of a horse, there is a change in human brainwave patterns, which means that we become calmer, centered and more focused. I have found that when brushing the ponies and preparing them to ride, all children remain relaxed and focused on the task ahead and that they all (at differing levels) understand that the care of the animal is important and must be done with a certain level of care and attention!
Its true that for children, having the opportunity to be able to touch and interact with horses or ponies promotes and encourages the development of many positive values, such as: increased confidence, self-control, self-awareness and a sense of responsibility. It’s important to remember that horses and ponies are not just strong in body, but are strong in mind too! Children must learn to behave correctly around their pony by being sensitive but assertive and calm. When it comes to riding, well, that’s a whole other experience! Firstly this fun filled activity is great for enhancing hand eye coordination and motor skills. Secondly, the way that a rider needs to sit on their pony is great for building up muscles in the back, thighs and legs and you can always do other stretching activities during lessons to work the whole body even more! Children can also become strong in the body by having core strength from riding, and become strong in the mind. At the end of a session regardless of your age, you will feel a real affinity with your humble steed.
I guess that this is the reason why I am writing this article and actually, why I have developed my career in this way. I truly believe that being around horses teaches children so many important life skills and can help each one become a more rounded individual. I love to see the bond grow between a child and a pony… to see the pleasure both parties get from being together and then the sense of achievement at the end, that’s a great thing to experience.
So everyone, my opinion is clear, if your child hasn’t ever had any kind of interaction with a horse or pony, go and give it a try. You never know, you might enjoy it yourself too! But be careful… when your child (or you) enters the horse world, it can be a wonderfully addictive and life-changing hobby!
Article by: Anna Skippon of Baybees Riding School in Findel, Luxembourg.
Last update: Friday, 13th March, 2015