Service animals are an indisputable asset in treating and dealing with disabilities: physical, emotional, and behavioral. Companion animals are legally allowed in public places where traditional pets are prohibited. One four-footed friend that may not spring to mind is the horse.
Of course you can't take a horse on an airplane or in a restaurant, but therapeutic horsemanship has helped thousands.
The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, (PATH) is an organization that credentials programs to provide equine experiences for those with special needs, such as austism, Down Syndrome, neurological and physical impairments, injuries, trauma, and other disabilities. Over 800 centers around the country provide Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) that occupational therapists use to treat a "host of motor, sensory and psychosocial objectives." Professional riding instructors are assisted by volunteers to give clients the experience of being a real equestrian. Having a relationship with an animal gives a sense of purpose and independence to a population that is largely dependent on the care of others.
In therapeutic riding, patients with disabilities or developmental disorders gain confidence and life skills through independent horse riding. Making a connection with something organic, a being that breathes and feels, triggers a healing mechanism that can't be duplicated by the most sophisticated machine.
One Alzheimer's patient at a center outside Washington, DC has found relief and comfort by riding. She will never get better. But her husband says it gives her a sense of control as the disease progresses. Her symptoms, "...improve when she’s here, on a short-term basis. And that’s good enough.”
On Maryland's rural Eastern Shore, KART (Kent Association of Riding Therapy) gives children and adults a chance to ride a horse, experience in stable management, and classroom time to reinforce what they learned. In addition to specific riding skills, they are learning to listen, to focus, and to follow instructions.
Not only is riding fun, it helps ease the burden of having a disability; a measure of independence that gives a psychological boost. These challenged kids say, I belong; I can do this.
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