Jul 17, 2013 0 Share

Getting Back on the Horse

Man riding a horse with instructor leading.

When I was a young boy, I participated in a hippotherapy program. (HIppotherapy is therapy through horseback riding.) I worked on many of my challenges such as hand-eye coordination, balance, crossing the mid-line, gross motor strength, and many other issues while riding a horse. I greatly enjoyed my time with in this program and it helped me to improve physically. Recently, I had a chance to revisit hippotherapy, and I found that I still enjoy being around horses, riding, and doing the exercises that I remember from my childhood. 

There were a few bumps in the road, though. I had difficulty climbing onto the horse because I am taller and weigh more than I used to. It took more than a few minutes to accomplish this task with the help of my therapist. She had to show me how to swing my leg over and pull myself up so that I could get the movements down. Once in the saddle, I had some issues with my sensitivity to people touching my feet. It has been a life-long sensitivity, and, even though my therapist asked permission and I gave it, it was difficult for me to control myself when each foot was being fitted to the stirrups. I did manage to tolerate it, however—a fact that I am proud of. It helped to look away while they were touching my feet.  

The new program is structured in a similar way to my old program, with one key difference: whereas the old program played out in an indoor environment, the new one takes place in an outdoor arena, a fenced-in area. A few cones were placed around the arena to mark off a walking route. Being in an outside arena is very different than riding in an inside arena. An inside arena is quieter, flat, has a well-defined walking area, and has sawdust as its base. An outside arena has all the noises of the outside including the wind. The ground is not flat; there were dips, slopes, and angles in the walk area that I had to work around. This arena has only cones to mark out the walking route, and has grass as its base. I had to adjust to these differences as well as reacquaint myself to riding again. 

My therapy horse’s name is Sonny, and he is a calm, friendly steed. My therapist walked in front of me and Sonny and there were two side-walkers that held onto each of my legs as well as someone behind Sonny to monitor the way I sat in the saddle. I was glad they were there because I did not want to fall off the horse my first time back. Thankfully, that did not happen.

I spent a large portion of my session getting used to being on a horse again, operating the reins, squeezing my legs to make Sonny move, and doing a few exercises. It turned out to be more physically strenuous than I thought it would be, but I enjoyed it very much. 

The rest of my time was spent speaking with my therapist about what I wanted to do during future therapy sessions. We worked out a rough program that will include many exercises and, eventually, have me taking the reins by myself to guide Sonny around the arena on my own. I am really looking forward to riding independently.

After the session was over, I helped to take Sonny in for a cool-down and brushing. Sonny, just like me, was hot and sticky from getting so much exercise in the humid weather. I brushed his coat with a small brush and spoke softly to him and thanked him for the nice ride and for being so well-behaved. Bonding with my therapy horse this way was always one of my favorite parts during my sessions as a boy, and I was happy to find out that I still enjoy it just as much now.

Overall, I would say that this first hippotherapy session went smoothly. My memories of the old program helped immensely in acclimating to the new one, but I also learned many new things about riding on and controlling the horse. The outdoor environment is also a refreshing change of scenery. I hope future rides will be just as rewarding and eye-opening to me as this one. I love riding horses, and I am so glad that I can saddle up again.