What makes a good therapy horse?
Therapeutic Horseback Riding is a multidisciplinary approach which has become known worldwide in recent decades. The horse is an incredible animal that serves a multifaceted and dynamic role in therapeutic horseback riding, enhancing the quality of life of many people with different disabilities and needs.
Although horses come in a variety of shapes and breeds, therapeutic horses tend to share some common characteristics. Most therapy horses accepted are of an age to have considerable experience with riders in usual riding disciplines. The horse’s demeanour is crucial to consider it as appropriate for therapy or not. The horse needs to demonstrate great compassion, patience, kindness and motivation for the job.
When a horse begins in a therapy program, it is taught an additional set of skills that helps it integrates all different resources used to assist and help participants with different special needs. For instance, the horses are acclimated to toys which are used in our programs, ramp or lifts for wheelchairs and training for double mounting.
Another very important feature for therapeutic horses is associated with therapeutic benefits. Therapeutic horses must have a regular and rhythmic gait in order to produce the type of “three-dimensional movement”. There are some breeds, known as “gaited” that do not present this characteristic, and, therefore, are not suitable for patients who have neuromotor disorders. The horse’s pace must match with clients’ muscle tone, presented sometimes as low tone or stiffness. Matching the horse’s pace may contribute to adjusting client’s muscle tone, and as a consequence, improves balance, biomechanical alignment and postural control.
All candidate horses for the program undergo an assessment before being purchased. Afterwards, they go through a trial period (a month) that will evaluate whether or not this horse will be integrated in our team of horses.