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What is it, where can I get it, and is it right for me?
Here’s the deal. Equine assisted therapy is much more sophisticated than a horse and a human coming together for the purpose of lessening anxiety in the person through close interaction with the animal.
- We repeatedly hear that we should exercise for our physical well-being.
- How many of us realise that we should also exercise for our mental well-being?
- Physical activity stimulates a bio-chemical response in our brain that influences our mental health.
Though families are finding their way to equine therapy and are enthusiastic about the changes it prompts in the lives of their loved ones, there is much to consider before therapy starts.
Let’s take a look at what is available. Oh, and don’t be concerned if you come across ‘Hippotherapy’. The word does not suggest working with chunky, rotund, mostly herbivorous mammals often seen yawning in waterholes. Hippo is Greek for horse, so you may see the word in your search for the right therapist for you.
Let’s start with: -
PATH International - Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International
PATH International was founded in 1969 as the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association. The organisation set out to promote safe and effective therapeutic horseback riding. It’s now resident in many countries worldwide, giving varied support to people, particularly those with special needs.
PATH Intl. promotes excellence through four primary programme areas: -
- Instructor certification
- Centre accreditation,
- Educational opportunities
PATH Intl. is the credentialling organisation that certifies instructors and accredits centres according to a set of field-tested standards designed to ensure the highest levels of safety, ethics and effectiveness in the industry.
Instructors must attend workshops and pass written and practical examinations to become certified to teach Equine Assisted Activity Training (EAAT) programmes. Centres may undergo a site visit by a PATH Intl. volunteer when seeking accreditation as a service provider. Trained PATH Intl. members make up those volunteer numbers. They give their time and expertise to teach, test and grade fellow professionals seeking certification or accreditation.
The McIntyre Centre
This organisation is a HELP Disability Care centre accredited by the Riding for Disabled Association Queensland and by PATH Intl. Within the McIntyre Centre team there are two PATH accredited coaches, four Level 1 RDAQ accredited staff members, and a Physiotherapist trained in Hippotherapy.
This facility offers riding support to people with or without disability. McIntyre Centre individualises programmes to create a focus on achieving clients’ specific learning goals.
This centre also offers the Eagala model of therapy, which comprises a licensed mental health professional who works collaboratively with the qualified equine therapist and one of the centre’s highly intuitive trained horses.
The Eagala mental health professional is new to the team. People experiencing PTSD, for example, returned services personnel and those who’ve experienced domestic violence would benefit from this therapy. Animals have the potential to change lives. Imagine what this therapy would do for your loved one.
If it is the equine therapy you require, you will find that The McIntyre Centre is an NDIS provider. HELP Enterprises is currently in the process of seeking provider status for the Eagala model as well.
I spoke to a mother whose son attends equine therapy weekly at The McIntyre Centre. This lad has always had a desire to work with horses, so the centre was a great place to start for a young man with a disability.
Besides learning to ride and care for the horse, this youth is learning how to understand emotions. Even horses have bad days, and all the students who were present one day recently witnessed a horse having an ‘off’ day. It was a great opportunity for the equine therapist to discuss with the students how the horse’s emotions affect them and translate that into how our expression of emotions affects others.
It takes careful consideration when matching horse to human. The McIntyre centre wants to maximise the learning and therapeutic benefits for all participants. This young man returns home after a session relaxed, happy and chatty. He speaks of the horse as one speaks of a friend, and his mother expressed the wish that there were more centres, and more equine therapists in the community. She believes the potential to make a difference cannot be understated.
The Eagala model also uses the client’s experience with the horse to drive change. All equine therapists recognise that the horse takes the client’s focus off himself, enabling him to experience where he is in the moment more than would be possible if he were stressed.
You can call the McIntyre Centre on 3202 6300
2963 Moggill Road, Pinjarra Hills QLD 4069
EquusTerra Therapeutic Horse Riding
Irina Aleksandrova holds a Bachelor of Education and is a registered coach with Equestrian Australia. She gained much of her equine training in the USA and upon her arrival in Australia, Irina sought to use both her teaching experience and her knowledge of horses to teach others to ride. The profound positive changes in the emotional and physical well-being of the riders encouraged Irina to start EquusTerra in June 2015. Irina’s desire was to focus on people with intellectual/neurological disabilities.
In EquusTerra, Irina and her Equestrian Australia trained horse coaches teach therapeutic horse riding to people of all ages. Most clients live with various disorders including ASD, ADD and anxiety.
In contrast to other equine therapy practitioners, Irina’s approach is holistic. It comprises sport, health, and wellness development with the desired outcome of a happy and healthy lifestyle. Participants spend time with a horse, becoming acquainted with the animal, learning to care for it and learning safety compliances-before they ever mount the horse. Only then do participants learn to ride from the basics up.
When the participant builds a relationship with the horse, often the spiritual benefits of working with such a large, intuitive animal become evident in a short time. EquusTerra fills a unique niche in this form of experiential learning by concentrating on three aspects of development, the physiological, psychological and the spiritual.
Here’s how it goes…
Prior to starting the programme
- There is an initial Meet and Greet session with prospective clients
- They discuss the major goals of the prospective client
- From this meeting Irina will determine if family/participant and therapist are the right ‘fit’ for each other.
As the learning progresses, the coaches encourage the riders to supplement the riding with additional physical activities to increase the strength and stamina required for more extensive riding.
Some participants happily engage in: -
- Personal training
- Gym sessions
Such exercise will help to achieve the goal of a healthier approach to life, build muscle strength and avoid potential muscular-skeletal problems such as bad posture or weak core muscles.
Irina says, “The positive emotional input of therapeutic horse riding based on love to horses provides strong motivation for significant improvements in confidence levels, reduced anxiety, social engagement-all common conditions in people with ASD ADHD and OCD. The magic of horses helps some riders to start talking, walking, and living.”
Stress and anxiety impede cognitive function. When a therapist brings a horse into the equation, the client’s focus is no longer on the human trainer. Clients who wholly embrace the horse-riding will often develop cognitively.
The animal will discern the client’s needs. Irina has had instances where a child has been slipping off the horse or experiencing a seizure. Intuitively the horses stop to enable the coaches to help the child.
Just as the horse responds to the student so too will the participant respond to the rhythmic movement of the horse.
- This stimulates the human’s senses.
- Trust and bonding occur, stress and anxiety diminish.
- The person can think, concentrate, learn, and remember more easily.
Clients will grow in physical stamina and coordination, and they develop an awareness of themselves that didn’t exist before. This progress empowers them to try new things, or to return to activities, such as school, that had been prohibitive because of anxiety. Parents and teachers may also see an improvement in reciprocal communication with family, teachers, and peers.
To support the trained coaches, EquusTerra uses some volunteers for clients who need additional support.
For Irina, the student/client takes priority in every aspect of her work, though there are still the horses and their accommodation to care for. However, that hard work is a part of her passion rather than a chore.
EquusTerra was, until recently, an NDIS provider however, just as other clinicians and small businesses are finding, the cost of the annual audit is prohibitive, and Irina has not sought re-registration.
You can contact Irina on: -
Written by: Rhonda Valentine Dixon