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The therapeutic benefits of horses

FranstrahanFranstrahan Member Posts: 898 Pioneering
edited March 2020 in Guest blogs

I'm Fran and I found out I had ASD last year. My autism diagnostic centre sent me a leaflet about horses helping people with ASD, since then it’s become something I love to do!

Why horses?

I never had much to do with horses. There was a home for retired horses close to us when I was a child that I used to visit regularly. There also was a church outing to go and ride a horse. I got Catlow, an ex-showjumper and it was a bit like a donkey ride at the beach, but that was it. I'm an animal lover and used to work as a pet carer. I also have looked after smallholdings with sheep, pigs, flocks of geese, ducks, chickens, but never a horse. So, when this leaflet arrived from my autism diagnostic centre about fully-funded sessions working with horses for people with ASD I knew I had to go!

 Fran stood holding a brown horse that is taller than her

It's called EAL or Equine Assisted Learning and is often referred to as horse therapy. Apparently, horses are very sensitive creatures due to being prey animals in the past, they pick up on your mood and emotions quickly. This makes them ideal for working with adults and children with ASD, ADHD, depression, anxiety and stress. The idea is to control your mood so the horse will respond to you.

The benefits of horses

The horse will actually encourage the handler to respond positively to them as they will react negatively to a disrespectful handler. The horse’s response helps the handler to realise how others see them and how they respond to their behaviour. It encourages the handler to modify any negative behaviour patterns. However, horses will not judge you, or criticise you like a person could. Therefore, the horse will gently teach a person to calm down their responses, with this being something I need to work on. Having control over a large animal like a horse will boost your confidence and working in unison with them will help develop social skills.

 One large dark brown horse which is tied up and eating hay

Also, the horses work with people in the early stages of dementia and their carers. During the summer months the centres two little Dartmoor ponies visit local care homes so the residents can pet and groom them. The horses just lift your mood and have a positive, calming effect on you.

My experience of Equine Assisted Learning

My experience, after just 3 hourly sessions has been amazing! I have stroked, groomed, led through an obstacle course, cuddled and kissed horses! Over the course of my last two visits, I was really stressed, and nearly cancelled my second visit. Yet I thought seeing them and being around horses just might help calm me down. I’m pleased to report that it did! I love them and going there is the highlight of my week.

 Two small ponies behind a wooden fence with grass in the background

The centre has a large barn for winter and bad weather sessions, as well as an outdoor arena and the fields for spring and summer. With them of course having a stable yard.

As I progress, I will get to spend longer there and get more involved in the general work as well as the fun things. This will involve mucking out and preparing their food. In the summer we will be out in the fields. I will learn how to put the headgear on a horse, then attach two long reins and guide them round the field. A bit like carriage riding without the carriage! It’s good exercise for the horse and a great experience for me. In the meantime, I still very much have my 'L' plates on.

 Do you know anyone or any group that would benefit from spending time with the therapy horses? Want some info on this centre? Need help finding a centre near you? Let us know in the comments below!


  • April2018momApril2018mom Posts: 2,869 Member
    Great post @Franstrahan! Have you ever heard of the RDA or not? They are a national charity that helps disabled people of all ages and abilities to try horseback riding. They even accept children. My son is on a waiting list operated by the local one in our area. 
  • Chloe_ScopeChloe_Scope Scope Posts: 10,653 Disability Gamechanger
    A great piece @Franstrahan!! I'm so glad you are enjoying it. :)

  • anistyanisty Member Posts: 171 Pioneering
    What a fabulous story! My daughter (she is 12 with no disabilities) is horse crazy and has been riding for a few years.

    My son who is ASD did try riding but has very low muscle tone so he could never get his horse moving as his legs just didnt have enough power in them! I dont think it was his thing, bless him.

    I love the picture of you with the horse; may horses continue to bring you much joy :)
  • AilsAils Member Posts: 2,268 Disability Gamechanger
    Hi @Franstrahan, this is an absolutely fantastic and uplifting post and will inspire many I am sure to help out with horses.  I am so glad for you that being with these beautiful animals is helping you and it sounds as though you are going to be doing many really interesting things with them.  That is a lovely photo of you with the horse, you look so happy in it!  They truly are lovely creatures and this is a wonderful way of being with horses.  I wish you well in continuing your time with the horses and keep us updated as how you are getting on.  It just shows you of the true healing powers of animals!  Thank you for sharing with us.  All the best.  :smiley:
    Winner of the Scope New Volunteer Award 2019.   :)
  • KellyCornwallKellyCornwall Member Posts: 12 Connected
    what a lovely post. I am so happy for you that you have found the joy that horses can bring.
    They are amazing creatures and when I am around them bring me peace and happiness.
    Be lovely to see how you are getting on and seeing photos added here, always love seeing photos of horses.
    The amount of joy in your face says it all in the photo.
    Keep going :-)
  • FranstrahanFranstrahan Member Posts: 898 Pioneering
    Thank you everybody. 
    I'll post more horse tales and photos as I go along. The last couple of visits the weather has been awful and we have been in the barn. Two weeks ago was there during a storm, had two horses in the barn, and one became really spooked. Another was bought in during the storm, apparently soaked to the skin, but when I checked her out her thick winter coat is also waterproof. Feeling under that top layer she was dry. The fields are puddled and very muddy meaning the horses need a lot of grooming. Roll on springtime!
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