Horses – the ‘mood altering drugs’used by many schools

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How exactly does spending time with a horse help when you’re struggling? Equestrian columnist and RDA coach Sara Greenwood reflects on the power of those gentle ears, and talks to April Kibby of Lofty Therapy Horses.
Simon was a little nervous at first and he was still a bit unsure when Bertie edged close to him and tried to give him a kiss. Then Bertie closed his eyes and waited for Simon to feel brave enough to come closer.

Where do you turn if you have a problem? Personally, I will have a cuddle with a horse and we put the world to rights. Thoughout my life I have done the same – I’ve been lucky enough to always have a horse there to listen. It’s not even necessarily about the riding; is it the feel or the smell of a horse that helps? Or is it just
someone that doesn’t answer back?

It’s not just about the exercise
Most of us suffer through short periods of physical or mental health issues. But for some these are lifelong and debilitating – and the Riding for the Disabled Assiociation (RDA) and Equine Therapy Centres are always there to help, whatever a person’s age. Horse Therapy has been effective for dementia patients as much as it is for physically impaired children and struggling teenagers. Many schools for pupils with special needs now routinely use RDA sessions. The physical activity provides a sense of independence and freedom, while developing co- ordination and muscle tone. Inevitably, however, the real benefits go far deeper than core strength. Children will increase in confidence, improve communication, gain real life experiences and even work towards being employed in the equestrian world, among other things.

Sara Greenwood says never underestimate the power of a quiet chat with a pony, especially for someone who is lonely or perhaps frightened to speak aloud.

Locally, the wonderful Milton Abbas RDA works with younger children, Bryanston RDA works with adults, and the Blackmore Vale RDA works with all ages. The Stella Hayward Meerhay Group work with teenagers from
Beaminster School who are finding it difficult to see their way in life.
“This year we have focused on work experience, starting with the basics of putting on a headcollar, a rug, saddlery. Tying up a horse or a hay net with the correct knot can take a lot of work on co-ordination. We
have been working on the BHS Challenge Awards, as these have small bitesize chunks to work on, with certificates that show lifetime skills.”
Horses often simply help people talk; someone who is lonely, or just frightened to speak aloud, can whisper quietly to a non- judgmental ear.
Even walking a horse, whether being ridden or led, around the village will always cause lots of chat and brightens someone’s day. My own neighbour and her pony are going to the next village ‘Coffee, Cake and Chat’ meeting. It gives people a chance to pat, stroke and talk to a pony that they otherwise may not have.

‘A Lofty kiss for Jenny’ – Lofty Therapy Horses is a Somerset-based charitable organisation offering animal-assisted therapy open to all ages and abilities with one-to-one sessions and small groups.

Horse therapy
April Kibby runs Lofty Therapy Horses. Lofty and his friends are miniature horses, pint-sized pals that travel around Yeovil and the surrounding areas, offering animal-assisted therapy. April says: “Working with, learning how to care for, and interacting with horses has a really positive effect on our mental health. It has
been said that horses are ‘mood altering drugs, without the side effects’ and that is so true! Horses can read human emotions, they mirror our feelings. They are kind, forgiving, challenging … and they are incredibly good at teaching us about ourselves, our emotions and how we interact with others.
“Horses provide psychological therapy – helping us to learn about ourselves through interacting and connecting with them, how to manage new challenges, and ultimately leading to new life skills and a more positive outlook on life.

by Sara Greenwood

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