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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Equestrian Therapy and OT

Published March 17, 2014 9:41 AM by Debra Karplus
I'm definitely not a "horse person." I grew up in the suburbs where the only animals in close vicinity were people's pet poodles and schnauzers and an occasional Siamese cat or canary or goldfish. At age seven, my best friend, who shared my birthday, died in a tragic horse accident.  That sort of thing can scar a little girl! In my forties, I enrolled in a beginning horseback riding class through the community college equestrian program hoping I could dispel this lifelong horse fear. The horses were beautiful, and my assigned horse named Easy, was a good match for me, but truthfully the part of the class that I enjoyed most and felt safest and most comfortable was grooming the horses, not riding them.

As an adult living in a college town, I've enjoyed the annual Independence Day parade.  The horses prancing along the street are indeed graceful and elegant. I like and respect horses, from afar.

A few years ago, I was lucky to be hired at a summer camp for children with disabilities in Upper Peninsula Michigan. I believe this is the most breathtaking part of the United States that I have seen in my sixty-something years.  Working with a team of creative and innovative occupational, physical, speech and music therapists, along with other professionals made this a fun and educational experience for me, and I believe, for most of the people who worked at camp.

The camp scheduled regular weekday, evening and weekend activities. Some were one-time events; others were more frequent. One of the activities that I especially enjoyed participating in as an observer was equestrian therapy or equine therapy as it is often called. Specific campers were part of this weekly therapeutic horseback riding program. We all rode the camp bus through the scenic northern Michigan hinterlands to get to the horse ranch where specially trained therapy horses were boarded.

The first time I watched my campers on the horses I was totally amazed. Kids who used wheelchairs and had some severe physical disabilities including balance and coordination issues, and trunk and hip problems, sat and bounced atop these beautiful and patient animals to address physical obstacles, gain confidence and trust, and simply to have fun and experience something they had never done before.

I did a little online research to learn more about equine-assisted therapy. It turns out that even the ancient Greeks knew that horses could help people with physical and even emotional problems. I discovered that in the mid-1940s horseback riding was used therapeutically to aid people with polio. More recently, a professional organization was founded to set standards for training and using equines for therapy.

If you ever have the opportunity to use therapeutic horseback riding with your patients or clients, children or adults, I highly recommend it. You will see people with disabilities become transformed into able-bodied self-assured individuals connecting with an animal that makes them feel safe.  Inquire in your area to see what‘s available for persons with disabilities

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