Animals have been within therapy for thousands of years and "Equine assisted therapy, or hippotherapy (from the Greek word 'hippos' which means horse)" can help people and children with mental and emotional problems.
Horse Therapy in the UK is being used to help Autistic children come out of their shell and interact with others and, for some, the results have been startling.
Autism is a lifelong debilitating condition that can make a child a virtual stranger to everyone, including parents and siblings. Autism may not show until a child gets to the toddler stage but it could still have been there from birth. The baby may look placid, happy and appear content but that could be as he or she is already locked in its own world.
At the toddling stage the child will face normal challenges which lead to interaction with others; play, talking and beginning to learn. This is when a parent may realise that their apparently healthy child has health issues.
Diagnosis of autism takes time but if and when such a diagnosis is made it is devastating. The parents will have to come to terms with their perhaps seemingly 'perfect' child facing a troubled future. They may need to mourn the loss of their child before they can move on as sadly that child will never fulfil their hopes and its potential. Locked in the world of Autism the son or daughter may always be just out of reach.
Watching footage of a mother and her autistic 11-year-old was poignant. Mum gave the background which was much as written above. The boy loved animals and now attended the Horse Therapy centre, manned by many volunteers and the result was an almost animated child.
First he was helped to climb aboard a sturdy shire type of horse; he did not sit but lay along its length. Initially he had only been able to do this for a few seconds but the time had extended considerably. He laid face pressed up against the horses back feeling its breathing, heartbeat warmth and life.
He looked so relaxed and after a time was moved around to face the other way so his head was towards the animal's tail end. He looked across at his Mum and said 'you are very beautiful' which was a tear-jerking moment.
Then with the help of the volunteers he was sat on the horse and taken for a ride. He looked as if he was born in the saddle. He conversed with the volunteers but above all was calm and controlled - so very different to what his life had become. Note - Equine assisted therapy is helping people with a range of challenges including mental health issues. Related reading: Horseboyfoundation, Equine assisted therapy
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