2001-Mon Jan 23 13:54:19 EST 2017
Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
Nearly everyone is familiar with therapy dogs, who visit hospitals, nursing homes, disaster victims and even universities during finals week to provide comfort and lower stress. But did you know there are also therapy horses? There are — and they can help with more than just emotional well-being.
The horses at Maryland Therapeutic Riding (MTR) work in two basic programs. One is hippotherapy, which is performed by licensed physical, speech and occupational therapists. "They're using the horse's movement as a therapy tool, just as they'd use a ball in a clinical setting," says Kelly Rodgers, program director.
The other program is therapeutic riding, where certified instructors teach riding skills to people with a wide range of disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy and PTSD.
"It takes a very special horse to do this job," Rodgers says.
One fundamental quality these horses need is the ability to be comfortable with a wide range of people. More than 150 volunteers assist in the programs, and clients can be kids or adults, some using canes or wheelchairs. "There are riders that might have balance problems or behavior problems," Rodgers says. "[The horses] have to deal with a lot of different noises."
The riding tasks can also be unusual. Some riders use an automatic lift to help them mount a horse. "The therapists may have the client ride backward or sideways — a lot of things that are not very natural for a horse," she says. "In our lessons we have some clients who need full support — that means someone leading the horse and someone on each side of the horse."
Rodgers says many of their horses are retiring from another career, such as show jumping or trail riding, but the organization generally doesn't use older horses as some people expect, since it's actually a very physically demanding job.
"In a regular setting, they have riders that can balance themselves and can carry their weight," she says. "This is different for them, so it's important that the horse is 100 percent sound and physically fit." They're kept that way with a strict exercise schedule to get the kind of workout they don't get in lessons, and close attention is paid to their nutrition, health and saddle fitting. In addition, the horses are kept up-to-date with all vaccinations and farrier and veterinary care.
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
Want to choose the best food for your
pet? Here's why you shouldn't fear
preservatives or fall for marketing…
Electronic cigarettes may be growing in
popularity, but their higher concentrations
of nicotine can poison cats and…
Are you handling your pet the right way?
Our vet shares five things your pup wishes
you knew about picking him up.
We combed through 505,270 kitten
names to determine the hottest male
and female monikers of the year.
We scoured our database of 1.1 million
dogs to find out which male and female
monikers reigned supreme this past…
The laid-back American Wirehair’s crimped, coarse coat requires almost no brushing or combing.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.