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With the help of horses – Riding for the Disabled

January 26, 2012

Horses can seem scary, and riding and being around horses can be dangerous simply because horses are big, strong animals, and they may not always be aware of how their movements impact the people around them (e.g, stepping on your foot).  However, anyone who has spent time around horses knows what incredible animals they are, and would probably say that horses have a sort of sixth sense. Horses can use this sixth sense to be playful and a bit mischievous, but they can also use it to take care of their riders when they need them most.

I think many people (myself included) feel a deep, inexplicable connection to horses, and a news story which I heard about today shows just how real this connection can be.

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One of the charities which I have been volunteering for recently has been the local chapter of Riding for the Disabled. I have wanted to volunteer with a charity like this for many years, and when I found out that there was a stable just down the road from me which ran RDA groups, I was thrilled.

However, in spite of my excitement, nothing could have prepared me for the amazing experience I would have.

I have been helping once per week on a day when students from a local school come to ride. All of these students have both physical and cognitive disabilities, several have autism and co-morbid epilepsy, two of them arrive in wheelchairs, and only one rider who is there on the day I help can communicate verbally.

In spite of their disabilities, everyone rides very well. One young man (who I was walking with today) arrives in a wheelchair, and sits in a very slouched position. He maintains this slouch when he first sits on the horse, but the moment the horse starts moving, his back is straight, and a smile appears which goes from one ear to the other! This smile hardly leaves his face until it is time to dismount. Another rider laughs throughout nearly the whole lesson because he enjoys himself so much. In fact, although the riders can’t speak, I have rarely experienced so much enthusiasm before in my life.

Getting back to the article I mentioned earlier, the horses used for these RDA groups have to be specially chosen and specially trained, as carrying some of the RDA riders is very difficult. Signals which may normally tell the horse to speed up have to be ignored, and the horses have to remain very calm regardless of what their rider is doing. I have been very impressed with the horses at the stable I have volunteered at, but so far, I have not witnessed anything as extraordinary as the events reported in this article.

I won’t be able to do the story justice, so please read it yourself as well, but apparently, there have been several instances where horses have seemed to sense when a rider was going to have a seizure, sometimes before anyone else, including the rider, knew this was going to happen. When this has happened, the horses have stopped and stood very still, allowing the riders to receive the help they needed without falling off and injuring themselves. In other instances, RDA participants with severe speech impairments have been overheard talking fluently to horses.

It is hard to put into words the connection that the RDA riders seem to have with the horses, but I have no doubt that the lives of the riders I have been lucky enough to meet have improved through their weekly riding lessons and their interaction with the horses. I am very glad I have had the opportunity to see this firsthand, and I hope to continue volunteering for the RDA charity in the future.

For more information about the Riding for the Disabled charity, or to find out how you can get involved or donate, please click here.

Please note: I have not been asked to promote the RDA charity. I have just enjoyed working with them myself, and found this news story interesting from a psychology/neuropsychology (and horse lover) perspective. I hope you do too!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Melisa permalink
    January 26, 2012 9:09 pm

    Emily, you know my bias but, I loved your story about your experiences with RDA riders and horses and the accompanying article.

    • January 27, 2012 11:37 am

      Thanks Melisa! I have really, really loved being around horses again – and seeing the amazing things they can do for people with disabilities. The only problem is that it has made me miss riding even more!

  2. January 27, 2012 9:22 pm

    I had a bad experience with horses when I was a teenager (momentarily stood behind a horse, spooked him, and thusly was kicked square in the ribs; totally my fault), but I have since rode horseback, and they are indeed amazing, gentle animals. They do seem to provide a sense of calm, don’t they? 🙂

    • January 28, 2012 10:14 am

      Aw, that sounds horrible Emily. I’m glad you were okay, and that you were able to give horses a second chance!

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