Horses are noble, beautiful, and powerful creatures. At HOPE (Horses Offering People Enrichment) we have the privilege of partnering with these magnificent animals and they are vital members of the HOPE team. While our equine partners are central to our work, all of our team members are skilled and well-trained – including our horses, instructors, and volunteers! At HOPE, we offer therapeutic horsemanship sessions to individuals with special needs. Our participants include children and adults from orphanages, the Migrant Children Foundation and the Beijing community.
Why the horse? For many it’s because it’s fun. For others, it’s because it does not feel like therapy, yet riding, grooming, leading, and working with horses offer many challenges and rewards that can enhance the quality of life for the participants. Equine Assisted Activities and Therapy (EAAT) has been shown to aid children and adults with disabilities to make gains in many areas of life such as physical, cognitive, speech-language, and social-emotional skills. EAAT can be a powerful tool to promote healing. On one occasion a child from an orphanage (5 years old and had not spoken since she had arrived at the orphanage) said her FIRST WORD while on the horse!! A teacher from Bethel Foster Home (one of the orphanages that HOPE serves) said:
“The horse is the key to unlock the heart of the child. They learn to trust the horse….”
She continued, saying the child learns to trust the people helping them at HOPE and that experience can be the first step towards the child interacting with others and gaining confidence. Powerful healer, the horse!
Studies have demonstrated that EAAT can have a positive effect on individuals with special needs including autism, cerebral palsy, blind and visually impaired, and many other disabilities. When riding, the horse’s movement provides a rich sensory experience, which can facilitate balance, walking, and other motor skills. Also, interacting with and riding a horse can help individuals with disabilities to heal, grow, learn, and experience a recreational sport. Additionally, participants often develop a special relationship with the horse, which can foster communication and social-emotional skills. The horse is non-judgmental by nature and HOPE horses have been carefully selected and trained – combined, these factors enable HOPE to offer services to help children with the help of the horse.