We should all be aware of the famous quote attributed to Sir Winston Churchill: “There’s something about the outside of a horse, that’s good for the inside of a man [or indeed woman]”. It’s used time and again to illustrate the impact on the human mind that these magnificent four-legged friends can have. Sometimes just seeing is enough. However nowadays there are a range of programs designed to inspire and heal involving horses of all shapes and sizes. The special bond between horse and human – cultured over generations – has been regenerated to reflect modern day topical issues such as mental health, whilst running alongside the critical benefits achieved by horse riding therapy.
The notion of using the horse to heal isn’t new. The claimed benefits of horse therapy have been dated back to 17th century literature where it was prescribed for ‘gout, neurological disorders and low morale’. Today as we spend more time thinking about how we can get back in touch with our own human nature, more opportunities exist to bring the horse back into our lives. Riding and/or therapeutic sessions, delivered either on the horse or from the ground, are making huge impacts on patients, prisoners and ordinary people from all walks of life.
In Ireland great work is being carried out with riding programs in Cherry Orchard and Moyross enabling children to connect with horses, look after them properly and possibly even enjoy a career with them. Sensational Kids offer equine Hippotherapy to children with additional needs. Wicklow-based Festina Lente run weekly vaulting lessons – a combination of gymnastics and dance on horseback. Other private rehab clinics offer access to horses from the ground via Equine Assisted Learning (EAL).
The benefits of EAL include improved self-awareness, self-confidence, communication skills, relationship skills, problem solving and teamwork. Horses are able to read the most subtle cues and respond to the messages people give to them in that moment with complete honesty. Horses reflect back the emotional state of the participant, so that people learn that if they change their behaviour, the horses will respond differently. People can then translate that learning to their interactions with others.
In America over 1,000 racehorses are used regularly in EAL programs within state prisons. The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation runs a Second Chance Program that provides vocational training in horsemanship skills to inmates while giving retired racehorses a home.
Treo Eile will actively promote the use of ex-racehorses in therapeutic environments. Please reach out to us if you already are (or plan to) use a thoroughbred within this type of setting.