It was many and many years ago in a kingdom by the sea…
Nah, I’m not so romantic as Edgar Poe and my life is not so beautiful as his poems.
In my life, it was 4 years ago and it wasn’t in a kingdom and there wasn’t any sea nearby. I was at university and my group had such a boring lecture (I bet everybody had such lessons when you had no idea what to do and you couldn’t stop yawning). But exactly that lecture changed everything: we were announced that there was one young girl (about 25 years old) who was looking for volunteers to work in stables. Right at that moment I got an idea “Hmm. OK. I love horses and have always had a big wish to ride them. And also they mentioned about children so it’d be a great chance to get new experience”. That’s how I opened hippotherapy.
Hippotherapy is a special physical therapy in which a therapist uses the special movements of a horse to provide motor and sensor input. A foundation is established to improve neurological function and sensory processing, which can be used in daily activities. I don’t want to say many words about this theory, ‘cause you have the Internet and you can always google it if you wish to get more information about that.
3 days later I came in the stables, where I was told that hippotherapy is used to help children with disabilities. That was my time when I met ki ds with special needs. That was my first time when I saw what Down’s syndrome was, how children with cerebral palsy looked like, how little heroes with autism communicated. I was shocked. That’s absolutely different from what you can watch in the movie, read in the book and hear from your friend or maybe even teachers. The reality has another face. I still remember how strange I felt myself and how I was afraid even to come to these children…
How was the process organized? I worked after university, evening sessions: between 16.00 and 20.00 (sometimes less). One session takes 30 minutes and it includes next steps:
1) Greeting the horse: looking at the horse, grooming and stroking it.
3) “Goodbye” – feeding the horse, thanking it and saying “goodbye”
How did riding look like? Actually it was the most important part. Some children often didn’t want to ride, because they were afraid of it. And you know, that’s so true! I was taught that if you want to understand how a little kid sees a horse – just squat and look at the horse, so you will see an enormous drooling creature (when I tried that, I got
a feeling that a horse is not as beautiful as I imagined that). So first of all we helped children to make friendship with horses: show that horses are not dangerous. After that we suggested children to sit onto a horse. And of course we gave a hand here. After that there was the most important part of the session – riding. Usually there were 3 persons during the sessions: instructor and two assistants. Instructor works only with children: making physical exercise, talking, giving commands and taking care. One of the assistant helps an instructor and looks after the child. Other assistant works with the horse: lead a horse, checking that ammunition is OK, correcting horses’ behavior. The last point was very serious for the reason that the horses are getting tired too, so assistant must understand how they are feeling and when it’s necessary, change their “mood”. For example, I always had some sugar cubes, or one horse enjoyed so much chewing my sleeves. I was quite happy when it was doing that, ‘cause at that moment it was very calm and I got a good hand massage. After the session the child fed the horse with apples, carrots and so on. It was a great pleasure that it brought smiles to children’s faces and how happy their parents were. Also I’d like to notice, that I could notice some positive changes: some kids started talking more, other kids improved their fine and gross motor skills, some kids became more emotional. So I wish to recommend hippotherapy to everybody.
Once I had a serious accident. It was the last session at 7 p.m. It was getting dark around and everybody was quite tired. I led a horse and thought about next days at university. Suddenly the horse got nervous and kid’s scream pealed behind me. The assistant couldn’t hold the kid and he fell down. Fortunately, the kid fell down into the mud, so he didn’t hurt, just got dirty. After that I was told by my supervisor that the problem was in the light. Sometimes horses are afraid of the darkness and I led the horse in the place where there were no lanterns. So it got nervous and scared. But as I said, luckily, we got off easy. The kid’s mother was OK about that accident, she said just “ A real horseman knows what a fall is”.
I spent about 3 months in this volunteer work. But later I decided to leave it, I had to focus on my university and language courses. But I’m thankful to this project because I got such a great experience:
1) I got a real knowledge about different disabilities;
2) I learnt how to communicate with children with special needs;
3) I was taught how treat the horse;
4) I got more information about hippotherapy;
Unfortunately, this story has kind of sad ending. The following spring there was a big tragedy. Somebody set the stables on fire. A lot of horses burned alive. Right now the stables function and the organizers are always looking for new volunteers. Also I’ve heard that hippotherapy is very popular project nowadays. I’ve read many advertisements in different countries that volunteers are needed, so if you’re interested in such work you can check some nearest stables and get info about that.I’m sure you will be gladly taken.
Be happy and enjoy your life