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Horses as Therapy

Meet Winnie, who has kindly shared her story, and insights into how horses can be therapeutic, both physically and mentally.


Horses have been used for centuries to provide support to mankind, whether in working capacity or sport. However, their roles in society continue to diversify to provide therapeutic services.

It was Stella Saywell who championed that horse riding could be used as an alternative to traditional physiotherapy to help with the treatment programs for Disabled people. Fast forward 50 years and the Riding for the Disabled Association is thriving with hundreds of groups running across the UK – providing therapeutic riding lessons and in some cases producing top calibre athletes.

For many Disabled people riding can achieve the same results as physiotherapy using different techniques, as you are able to build up and engage different muscle groups while learning to work with the horse you ride. The motions of the horses gait can also help loosen the muscles in the rider to encourage a better degree of movement.

Similarly Equine Assisted Learning can be a useful tool from the ground as tasks like grooming can be beneficial in encouraging the individual to use their muscles to aid them in being able to complete said task – all the while learning about the horses wellbeing in the process (especially for younger people).

In addition to this the mental wellbeing of a person can be greatly improved by the input of horses through riding and engaging with Equine Assisted Activities. I myself have been surprised at how much my life has been positively impacted by working with Emma and helping with the herd at Mini Ramblings since January this year.

Horses are incredibly receptive and require a lot of trust from their human, which helps build connections as you are essentially learning together, and the achievement from that can be overwhelmingly powerful and great at developing self esteem, confidence, and determination. The aspect of being close with a horse to many equestrians helps them open up and in some ways be vulnerable, I guess this is where ‘two hearts’ comes from. I’ve witnessed so much progress in my peers, from non verbal children using signs and learning audio cues to seeing the muscular strength and stamina for a person to learn to Canter.

I myself have a rocky relationship with my mental wellbeing. Especially with the lack of opportunity as a result of the pandemic and the RDA facilities being closed (and for some this is a permanent closure).

Riding has been used as an alternative therapy for me since the tender age of 6 when I refused to do my traditional physio. 17 years on, this is my replacement for physiotherapy and when the opportunity comes around, I will be working towards being more supple – my one wish is to one day have a horse of my own.

However, my interactions with horses on the ground have been what has helped me the most in developing better communication, self worth and overall sense of purpose – to the point that if you told me a year ago three Shetlands and a section A would become the centre of my universe I would have laughed.

If I could express anything from this, horses are an asset to the physical development and mental wellbeing of people. Equine Assisted Learning and Activities, if adequately funded can be revolutionary and have immense impact to the population.

Winnie - Instagram: @WinniebyWheels and @miniramblings


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