Equine-therapy has changed my life, and if you suffer from chronic illness, it can change yours, too!
I rode horses professionally prior to becoming disabled. They have always been the biggest part of my life and have provided me with countless hours of friendship, comfort and now; healing.
In 1998, I suffered a traumatic brain injury and was left with cognitive and physical impairment. A short while later, I started experiencing symptoms I would later find out was the start of my journey with Multiple sclerosis. Upon release from the hospital, I discovered that there wasn’t a lot of options for me in regard to cognitive therapy. There was plenty of programs for those who were in need of in-house care, but not many for those like me, who needed help acclimating to the “outside” world that no longer accommodated them. I went to the one place that had always provided me with the most comfort; the barn.
Maverick is a beautiful black and white Quarter horse Paint who was specifically selected as a youngster to be a therapy horse. His sweet, gentle disposition makes him the perfect candidate for providing equine assisted therapy. When I was first hoisted onto Maverick’s strong back, I was transported to another time… One when I wasn’t in need of a wheelchair, cane, service dog or any other assistive device. It was just me and the horse; just like it had always been. Maverick gave me sure, strong legs to transport me to another space and time. He gave me comfort, strength and courage; ultimately, he gave me freedom.
Equine therapy is a form of assisted activity in which specially-trained horses are used to help achieve personal, emotional, physical and cognitive benefits. There is something so profoundly healing, on an elemental level, being around horses. It’s almost as if they ooze a feel-good aura that literally soaks into your soul!
My personal modification of equine therapy
I’ve always loved music. When I trained professionally, I always had a radio playing my favorite tunes in the arena. After I had my brain injury, life became so overwhelming. Environmental overload kept me captive to my home. I needed to find a way to deal with it, lest I become a permanent prisoner to my home and my disabilities.
Enter Maverick and a CD player. Being alongside Maverick was one of the few times that overwhelm didn’t have its icy grip on me. I would brush Maverick, using big, round strokes on his coat with my favorite music playing in the background. I started walking alongside of him, using his big body as a brace. I tried practicing the skills I’d learned in cognitive therapy alongside Maverick with music playing in the background. I started seeing a difference in my cognitive abilities and a decrease in my overwhelm.
I learned later that music therapy reaches every part of our brain. Doing the exercises with Maverick with music playing actually started to rebuild pathways in my injured brain!
Now that my Multiple sclerosis has progressed, Maverick is a comforting presence that connects my former healthy self with my new reality. Even when I’m not able to get onto his back, I can garner healing from his nearness and never-ending friendship.
How to get into equine therapy
The great thing about equine therapy is that you do not need to have any prior horse experience in order to participate! The horses that are used for equine-therapy are specially selected for their docile personalities and are specially trained for the gentleness that their job requires.
- A Google search of stables that specialize in equine therapy will provide you with suggestions of places in your area. There are also great books written about the subject for your research.
- Be sure that the stable you choose has experienced, certified staff and well-trained horses.
- Set up a meet and greet prior to your first session to ensure that the program is a good fit for you.
- Be sure that the place you choose requires the use of a helmet and proper footwear while engaged in mounted activities.
- Be sure to tell the program leaders all of your physical, emotional and cognitive deficits (so they can properly match you with your equine therapist) and have a list of your therapy goals as well.
Do you have questions about equine therapy? Have you tried it? Is there a special horse in your life? I’d love to hear about it! Hit me up in the comments section. Till next time,