Along with working, competition and transportation, as well as being coveted companion animals for pleasure riding, horses add the magic of healing to their many talents.
Although not a new concept, using horses to help heal or improve human life is a rapidly growing mental and physical health field with endless possibilities of transforming lives.
Acronyms such as PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship), EAAT (equine assisted activities and therapies), EAP (equine assisted psychotherapy) and EAL (equine assisted learning) along with terms such as hippotherapy and therapeutic riding, all relate to using horses in different capacities to help heal or rehabilitate humans.
The list of syndromes, circumstances and conditions that horse therapy can help is long, including attention deficit disorders, sensory impairment, paralysis, substance abuse and addiction, cerebral palsy, amputees, Down syndrome, strokes, terminal illness, autism, spinal bifida and post traumatic stress disorders.
At Athelas Therapeutic Riding facility, owner and trainer Anneliese Gilchrest explained that she received a bachelor’s degree in North Carolina specializing in therapeutic riding and returned to Otego with plans to work for a therapy riding stable. There were so few stables that offered therapy riding that she and her husband decided to build their own. In the spring of 2010, Athelas Therapeutic Riding was open for business as a not-for-profit facility.
“We currently have seven therapy horses working with many local organizations and individuals, including at-risk youth, which happen to be a great match for our rescue horses,” Gilchrest said.
As a certified registered therapeutic riding instructor, Tricia White of Bovina was the director and instructor for a therapeutic riding program in Norwich.
“The focus is to provide a unique opportunity through specially designed programs that involve working with horses, to individuals with special needs,” she said. “The programs are designed for people with special needs such as physical disabilities and psychosocial disorders. It utilizes a multi-sensory approach to develop and facilitate motor, language and social/emotional skills. The effectiveness can produce a positive change in the students attitude toward self, peers, family and their community.”