Healing With Horses5 min read

Healing children and communities in Zimbabwe through Equine Assisted Activities and Therapy

By Trish Lillie

Healing with Horses Bulawayo

Healing with Horses Therapeutic Centre is a registered Zimbabwe Trust and was established in Bulawayo by Jill Burgess and Aileen Johnstone in 2013 as the only Therapeutic Riding Centre in Zimbabwe.  Healing with Horses (Bulawayo) is the only PATH Intl. (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) Centre in Africa, and has the only PATH Intl Therapeutic Instructor in Zimbabwe and, the last time we checked, in Africa.

Towards the end of last year, I decided that I wanted to do something to help people using my passion for horses. With Jill’s help I started a branch of Healing with Horses, offering Therapeutic Riding at my Kurapa Stables in Umwinsidale. I have been working with a wonderful person called Sihle Nyashanu who runs a Special Needs Support Network called Safehaven Zimbabwe. The children I have had the privilege to serve so far have Autism Spectrum Disorder and Cerebral Palsy. With the help of some very generous members of the Equestrian Community in Harare, the number of children who are benefitting from this programme will increase in the weeks ahead.

The field of riding therapy and caring for children with special needs requires constant learning. I attended the EAGALA Course in November (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning) along with Teagan Harley and Bridget Harwin, and am currently doing the Horse Boy Method Level 1 online course which is specifically for children on the Autism Spectrum Scale.

Jill and Aileen have given a brief description of our mission statement below, and explain what therapeutic riding is all about.

Healing with Horses Bulawayo

Therapeutic riding uses the movement of the horse to help heal the body. The movement of the horse simulates the movement of the rider. When you put a child with underused or underdeveloped muscles onto a horse, their muscles are exercised without the child even being aware of it. Due to the fact that we don’t use saddles, the warmth of the horse’s body comes through to the muscles of the rider and warms them, which is a basic need for any physical therapy session. The muscles are warmed, gently stretched, exercised, and built up without any physical exertion on the child’s part. (This also applies to adults undergoing riding therapy!)

For occupational therapy needs it is understood that the development and building of core muscles follows through to fine motor skills, and even eye control. The horse’s back moves backward and forward, up and down, and side to side, thus thoroughly exercising muscles and building core strength. This enables the child’s posture to improve dramatically. So the strengthening and exercising of core muscles will at the same time, without the child being aware, be exercising fine muscles, improving fine motor skills, improving eye tracking – the list is endless. Riding requires equal exercising and use of both sides of the body – you cannot have a stronger side whilst riding a horse. We do exercises to cross the centre, we use fine muscles for eye and hand control, and we use gross muscles for balance and movement.

For emotional and psychological needs, horses are very sensitive animals, and respond to human emotions immediately. Not only do they mirror the child’s emotions so that the counsellor/instructor can see what the child is feeling, but they respond to the child in such a way that the child sees the effect his moods and actions have on another being. They can see the reaction which occurs in response to their action, and thereby learn to be sensitive to another person and to moderate their actions accordingly. Horses will never judge the child for their disability or emotional instability, and this gives the child a sense of safety and comradeship which the councillor/instructor can then reinforce and build on to apply to life. The child learns responsibility to the horse – they learn to brush, water, and feed the horse and realise how useful and needed they are. All of these feelings will be carried through to other aspects of their lives.

Healing with Horses in Bulawayo works all year round with about 75 children with disabilities from the King George VI Centre (KGVI) and 35 disadvantaged, abused, children from the Sandra Jones Centre, as well as other children from orphanages and crisis centres for abused children. The difference in their physical capabilities, from relaxing muscles in spasm to building their hand-eye coordination and balance, as well as their emotional health in terms of building their confidence and finding their voices, really has to be seen to be believed. I am just getting started in Harare, and especially want to help special needs children whose parents also have financial need. Please contact me for more info on how to sponsor a child’s riding therapy at Healing with Horses, Harare.

Some words from Darryl’s mother, Sihle:

Darryl doing exercises

“Darryl is ten, and on the severe end of the Autism Spectrum Disorders. His developmental age is between 24 and 36 months. I have been home-schooling Darryl since 2005 and his individualized education plan includes the most basic things to develop him towards independence. One of the things that we have been working on is following instructions in different situations and horse riding has presented that opportunity. Since November 2017, I have enrolled him with Healing with Horses Therapeutic Centre. He has thoroughly enjoyed riding and brushing the horses. Feeding them has also been one of his major highlights. Even though he sometimes presents with negative behaviours on our way there, after he’s ridden the horses he becomes calm. On two occasions he’s shown his willingness to assist in the other children’s sessions by holding the reins to lead the horses which has brought a huge smile to my face.”

Contact us for more information

Healing with Horses Bulawayo

Aileen: 0773 472225, healingwithhorseszimbabwe@gmail.com

Healing with Horses Harare (Kurapa Stables)

Trish: 0774 044805, trishlillie@gmail.com


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