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Equine Therapy - Riding for the Disabled

Dorcas' Experience in this field

Throughout her professional career, our instructor has had a lot of experience working with disabled people.

Over 30 years ago she took part in a social colaboration programme between young people and the disabled community run by MENCAP, as part of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, doing volunteer work at the local social centre for disabled people. In this type of activity you learn a lot.

After this initial experience, in Scotland, Dorcas has worked with riding for the disabled in many different places since 1985. She actively helped one of her aunts who founded one of the first RDA groups to start in England, during her training as an instructor in 1986, in 1987 she took charge of a group of riding for the disabled at the centre where she worked in Scotland, one of the pupils in this group was selected for the national paraequestrian team for dressage.

Dorcas' concept of Riding for Disabled People

"Horses understand who we are, how we are and what we know through our body energy and through other signals which we unconsciously give them or they perceive from us."

A horse will react one way with an adult who controls his/her body and mind perfectly and completely differently with for example a small child. We have living proof of this with Chivita, the strongest, most demanding horse to ride that we have, during a local fair we put Ian, our younger son, on her at the age of 2 or 3, and we could leave him sitting on her for hours, the horse didn't move even if you pulled her around. In the same way, horses understand when a person has a disability whether it is physical or mental, and they behave acording to what they perceive from that person.

If horses perceive total confidence or even innocence, they give back total confidence. They can communicate with disabled people and create a very special relationship with them. Horses have a great capacity for patience and they know that these people need a lot of time.

One of the groups of people who most benefit from equine therapy are those who have communication difficulties. The relationship with the horse is very simple and it gives them a lot of self confidence, at the same time it is relaxing. This is most obvious with cases of Autism, Hyperactivity and Cerebral Paralysis.

Dorcas tells us of  A Very Moving Experience

"The most moving and humbling experience that I have had with horses was when our first paraplegic client asked me if he could ride. He is in a wheelchair, with no sensitivity or mobility from the waist down.

We built the ramp, which we use for all our disabled groups and other clients who find it very useful, specially for him, to get the wheel chair to the same height as the horse.

The first day we got him onto Duque, the horse told me quite clearly without the need to use human words, that he, Duque, couldn't move. The message was very clear: 'This man isn't right, he isn't the same as other riders, he is having a very bad time and is very frightened and therefore I CAN'T MOVE.' After a bit of persuasion Duque moved forwards, as though he was walking on glass, in slow motion. We managed to do a couple of trips round the school with this disabled rider amazed at what he was able to do.

There are no words to describe the sensitivity of this horse towards people."


How the Equine Therapy Programme Works

At Cortijo Las Minas Equestrian Centre we offer Riding for the Disabled as Adapted or Assisted Riding and Accessible Tourism.

In each of the riding for the disabled sessions we encourage the pupils to come into contact with the horses, to touch them, to brush them and bit by bit get closer to them. Each person progresses at his/her own pace, not every person will touch a horse the first day, sometimes it's enough to come and watch, to see the horses in their stables and to watch how other members of the group, who have been doing this for longer, ride.

We take each step forwards when the pupil is ready, next we lead the horses around, we make friends with them, very often the pupils establish a special friendship with one of the horses, and finally, when the pupil feels ready he/she gets on.

Normally we lead each horse in hand and each pupil will have a member of staff beside him/her to help correct posture and keep him/her in balance.

We do basic school movements, some of the pupils learn how to steer the horse, making turns to the left and right, to stop it, to change the rein, doing large circles and figures of eight. We do bending between barrels, sometimes we walk over poles on the ground or do a little bit of trot. We use simple warm up exercises to encourage mobility and flexibility. The most important is for the riders to feel safe and to enjoy themselves.

The progress, in general, is slow but sure - producing very beneficial results. The pupils gain in self control, self confidence, relaxation and self esteem. For people with specific motor and balance difficulties the benefits are more physiological than emotional.

The movement of the horse's back moves the hips/pelvis and spinal column of the rider in a similar way to when we are walking. It is a rhythmical to and fro three dimensional movement. When the hind leg of the horse comes forward the muscles of that side of its loin contract and consecuently move the rider's hip forward, so one hip moves and then the other. This semi-rotatory movement produces a compensatory movement in the spinal column, to maintain the balance in the upper body moving in the opposite direction.

Therefore through riding we can stimulate the natural responses of the muscles weakened by certain disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Distrophy, Acquired Brain Damage or Scoliosis.

We treat each case individually at Cortijo Las Minas Equestrian Centre, however we are only able to work with people with mild disabilities who come into the category of Riding Adapted  or Assisted for the Disabled.


On the other hand when there are more complicated cases of physical disability we recommend the Hipotherapy sessions offered at Los Quintos Equestrian Centre, our twin centre in Antequera, where an expert physiotherapist can attend to your needs on an individual basis E-Mail: juliafadlallah@hotmail.com



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