Horse Play

Hippotherapy. Does that summon visions of hippopotami in tutus tiptoeing to the music of Dance of the Hours from Disney’s Fantasia? Or am I merely dating myself?

Hippotherapy, of course, has nothing to do with hippopotami in tutus. The words share a root, hippo, Greek for horse. A hippopotamus is a river horse.

Horses as therapy: Hippotherapy

Remember Mr. Ed the talking horse? I continue to date myself, don’t I? What would Wilbur have done without him? He was his confidant, and best friend, who nevertheless got him into trouble on occasion. Who has a dry eye reading the book or watching the film, My Friend Flicka? The horse heals the boy, and the boy returns the favor, nearly dying to save the horse.

Source: google.com via Kathie on Pinterest

The horse is a mirror to the human condition.

I had a horse when I was a kid. His name was Big Red. He responded to me, and my sisters, individually, the three of us who enjoyed horseback riding. He knew what behaviors made us uncomfortable when we climbed onto his back. With me he would toss his head back over and over. He knew that frustrated me. I have many regrets about that horse. I love animals, maybe more than humans. But, as a kid I knew nothing about horses. My father, who was the domineering sort, taught us how to saddle and bridle Big Red. It wasn’t pretty. Knee him in the stomach, he told us, to cinch the saddle around his belly. The knee caused him to suck it in.

No wonder the poor horse didn’t want us on his back, even as lightweight kids. We weren’t very nice to him, even though we loved him. We were told he was a big dumb animal, and to treat him as such.

As I matured and spent more time around animals I realized, of course, this was not at all true. I think about Big Red sometimes, and wish I had it to do over again. All any animal requires is affection, and they return it a hundredfold.

Fran Judd is a physical therapist who started Renaissance Healing and Learning Center to help in the easing of the physical challenges of autism, stroke, and a host of special needs.

Under her tutelage a teenage boy with autism who doesn’t normally touch things with ease, after a couple of sessions, touches a horse’s back. The contact triggers something in him, and he becomes more aware of his surroundings. For the first time he walks unguided.

Source: 27.media.tumblr.com via Adriana on Pinterest

A woman who walked with a limp, and right side weakness, after a stroke sits on a horse and allows her body to move with the animal, and some of what was lost is restored.

Special needs kids have been shown to benefit greatly, both physically and emotionally from contact with these well-trained gentle giants. The rhythmic motion, similar to the human walk, strengthens the natural motion of the pelvis; the interaction between student and horse fosters self-confidence and trust.

Full House Farm, here in my hippie town, talks of a Spacious Intimacy with horses. Maybe a little touchy-feely, but if you watch the two-minute video on the website the convoluted language translates to a beautiful ballet of how attuned horses are to our demeanors.

Have you seen the very moving documentary, Buck? A horseman from Wyoming, Buck overcame an abusive childhood partly by finding refuge in horses. He dispels the ridiculous notion that horses are big, dumb animals. He is the Horse Whisperer extraordinaire. Robert Redford modeled his character in that film after Buck. Over the course of the documentary we learn about the sensitivity of the horse, how they mirror our emotions, how they exhibit an unconditional affection for the affection shown to them.

Buck (film)
Buck (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I highly recommend the film even if you have no particular affinity toward horses. Buck himself will win you over. An appreciation of horse flesh is the bonus.

How do you feel about horses? Have you spent any time around them?

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24 Responses to Horse Play

  1. iampisspot says:

    I had a pony when I was a kid. His name was Fly. He was incredibly nervous when we first got him, but over time, he learnt to trust me. I had such a bond with him – sometimes, I would sit for hours under a tree, him standing over me, and talk to him, telling him my problems – he was just a pony, of course, but somehow, I felt like he understood.

    When I turned 18, I chose to move to France, and so Fly was sold on. Many years later, I was out walking with my Dad, and we spotted him in a field. I shouted his name, and he lifted his head, whinnied and came galloping over. He remembered me!

    Thank you for such a lovely post, it brought a lot of memories back.

    Horses really can help the healing process.

    Much love xoxo
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  6. Melody says:

    Um – the only interaction I had with a horse was to get thrown – and break my sacrum, narrowly missing potential paralysis. so – my experience with horses has been – less than ideal…But I do know about therapy for special needs children that has done amazing things. Maybe I needed a different horse?? :)

    • Steph says:

      Hi Melody. Yikes, that’s quite a story. Less than ideal, I agree. The horses used for hippotheraphy, though are highly trained, as are the therapists. So, yes, if you had a different horse, it might have worked more in your favor. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  7. Janice says:

    With both a daughter and sister with profound special needs, I’m always fascinated by these types of therapies.

    Personally, I LOVE horses. We never had a place for one, but my best friend growing up always had them. As far as therapy, there’s nothing available in our very rural area. My daughter has been on a horse, and she loved it. However, when my sister was little, her class went and she screamed and cried the whole time. It scared her to death. Maybe with time and patience she would have been able to benefit from it.

    Anyway, this is a great post, and I hope it brings this type of therapy to the attention of others.
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    • Steph says:

      Thanks Janice. Possibly with specially trained therapists and specially trained horses your sister may have benefitted. Thanks for the nice words.

  8. Mayor Gia says:

    Poor big red! I haven’t really spent time around horses, but I do think animals can do amazing things for people..
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    • Steph says:

      Hi Gia. Yes, poor Big Red. I will feel bad for that horse forever. I wish I knew then what I know now. Thanks for reading.

  9. jamie says:

    I think it’s the connection we have with animals. We can’t have an interaction with animals, or even just look one up close in the eye without coming away changed ;)
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    • Steph says:

      Hi Jamie. I certainly agree we cannot be but changed when interacting with animals in an affectionate manner. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Cynthia M says:

    What a lovely post. I’ve never been around horses, but I never think of any animal as dumb. I really believe in all kinds of animal therapies. Animals and people have quite an impact on one another.
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    • Steph says:

      Thanks Cynthia. Animals do indeed have quite an impact on one another. And I’d like to change that idea that some people believe, that animals are dumb. So not the truth. Thanks for commenting.

  11. Vivian says:

    Ah I learned something today, I know that some people refer to hippo as sea horses but I never knew that the word hippo was Greek for horse. Animal therapy is wonderful.
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    • Steph says:

      Hi Vivian. I love learning, no matter how small or large the slice of information. I’m glad to have provided that tidbit today. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  12. I LOVE the idea of horses and learning from them. I know though that I would never be responsible enough to care for one which saddens me. When I was little I used to ride regularly and I loved it until my hayfever developed and all of a sudden I could no longer be around the stables. I haven’t really been back since although I love watching horses run and am always drawn to movies or stories that feature them.
    I’ve heard of some therapies where you have to walk up to the horse and get it’s permission to clean its hoof. I’ve heard it can be a very intimidating experience and I’ve added it to my personal bucket list. I hope to do that one sooner rather than later!

  13. Christie says:

    I have always loved, loved, loved horses. They are, by far, my favorite animal. I have always dreamed of owning a horse but never have. There is a place near us that practices hippotherapy. I looked into volunteering at the farm a few years ago but it didn’t work out with my schedule. I am hoping to look into it again in the near future. Thanks for bringing to my mind again.
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    • Steph says:

      Hi Christie. So cool that you not only know what hippotherapy is but that you’ve looked into volunteering. I hope it works out. There are so many places I’d like to volunteer that include working with animals. And animals working with people. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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    This is the type of entry I appreciate.
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  15. After a week of touching keys, buttons, and gadgets, to imagine touching a horse seems refreshing and enlivening–akin to walking barefoot in the dew-drenched grass in the morning. Well, maybe not quite that shocking, more soothing. Thank you for this post. It has reminded me of something I am missing. Also, I really enjoy becoming aware of people in the field of healing others. It’s inspiring.
    Have a great weekend.
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