From those who compete at top level to those who prefer to keep their feet firmly on the ground and admire from a safe distance, horses have a positive impact on the lives of all those who come into contact with them. There really is something for absolutely everyone!
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie and enjoy galloping along vast sandy beaches or prefer to take a slow and steady plod around the countryside whilst watching the world go by, a few hours in the company of a horse is guaranteed to be time well spent.
When it comes to inclusivity, I doubt there are many other pursuits on a par. There are fewer of the divisions and barriers we see in other sports where competitors are categorised by gender or age – we are all in this together, either individually or as part of a team.
Regardless of age, ability, gender, nationality, or any other label the human world may wish to apply. The old saying is true and applies to us all, no matter who we are or where we have come from:
‘In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.’
– Helen Thomson
Horses & Mental Health
Alongside improving levels of fitness, spending time with horses has been proven to have a positive influence on mental health and helps to develop a greater sense of emotional intelligence. We only have to look at the latest impact report from the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) to see the value of time spent with horses and how it has a significantly positive impact on the lives of people of all ages living with physical or learning disabilities. Horse riding with the RDA has proven to improve physical health, boost confidence, help build relationships and improve the communication skills of riders by more than 65%. Like so many horse-related activities, the activities organised by the RDA give riders a sense of satisfaction, achievement and excitement with every visit.
The experience and education offered to young people with physical and learning disabilities is second to none. Given the right guidance and with a little determination and will power, anything is possible. Look at the remarkable achievements of Paralympian dressage rider and winner of 14 gold medals, Sir Lee Pearson, who not only competes as part of the Paralympic Dressage Team, but also won the British National Championships in 2003 competing against able-bodied riders. Team GB have been leading the way in Paralympic Dressage for a significant number of years now and demonstrate just how wonderful and magical the synergy between horse and rider can be in removing barriers and helping people overcoming difficulties.
For many interacting with horses provides a sense of mindfulness, satisfaction, achievement and excitement like very few other activities can. Considering the size of horses, they have the capacity to be incredibly gentle and they pick up on the subtlest cues, making them the perfect companion and the best therapy. Sometimes the simplest things, like brushing, leading and feeding horses is enough to help us reset and find ourselves again. Regardless of what the rest of the world is doing, horses have the ability to capture and hold our attention, transporting us to a place where the pace slows and we are reminded to just stay focussed on the present moment. It is this sense of calm and quiet which makes horses the perfect partners for Equine-Assisted Learning programs. Instead of being swept under the carpet and being seen a something of a taboo, mental health is very much under the spotlight these days and rightly so. We live in a high-pressured and face-paced world, and it sometimes gets a little overwhelming and rather stifling for us all.
Equine Therapy Programs
Equine therapy programs are starting to gather the recognition they deserve, both here and across the world. For example, there are workshops offered in America by the ‘Horse Sense and Healing’ program which provides vital support for veterans and first responders suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Through the process of ‘Join Up’, participants are able to form a unique bond with horses based on mutual trust and respect. This helps build resilience for participants who have become withdrawn or who are struggling with anger, stress and severe emotional trauma.
Similar work is done by the ‘Lead Up’ program which works exclusively with children and young adults in Guatemala. Here the special and unique relationship with horses teaches vulnerable young people to become peaceful leaders; inviting the next generation to learn how they can work collaboratively without the need for fear, intimidation and violence. Where horses have been used in programs such as ‘Lead up’ there has been a significant reduction in the hospitalisation and death of many young people living in low-income areas where youth crime is prolific.
Uk Assisted Learning Programs
Equine therapy can be beneficial to all ages, and has proven to be a fantastic tool at combatting depression, learning difficulties and other stressful illnesses. A UK based organisation who offers equine therapy sessions to both children and adults suffering with mental disorders and impairments is Equine Pathways UK.
Many of their horses have been resued and rehabilitated from unsuitable living conditions, and now spend their days comfortable, aiding those in need. Many of the horses and humans have actually formed strong bonds with each other, which helps to build a relationship of confidence, self-esteem and comfort.
Another organisation is Horse Time who facilitate the delivery of evidence-based mental health and trauma interventions with feedback from horses. Their approach is based on harnessing the emotional benefits of being in partnership with a herd of horses – something that can lead to life changing results!
Equine Charity Work
Of course, much of the work done to help keep the equestrian world a diverse and all-encompassing place is completed almost exclusively by charities and non-profit organisation which means many of the people who make these amazing opportunities happen are volunteers. Time is precious and there is nothing more precious than quality time spent making friends and memories. If you have a little time to spare, why not consider looking at some of the volunteer opportunities available at your local branch of the RDA? There is no pressure to commit to offering your time on a weekly basis because there are plenty of ad hoc opportunities available too. You’ll be sure to receive a warm welcome into the family and they have volunteer opportunities to match your specific interests and skills. Whether you are brilliant at baking or super organised, the RDA will have a role perfectly suited to you. Perhaps you want to get your children out of the house and doing something worthwhile and rewarding, why not share your volunteering experience with your children? The RDA offer award-winning volunteer training and welcome volunteers from the age of 12 upwards.