There are many roles horses fill in today’s world: police horses, military horses, carriage horses, pack mules/horses, dressage horses, jumping horses, eventing horses, race horses it being carriage or rider, western horses and trekking horses, to name a few. And these days being a therapy horse is a career as well. It used to be a role for your old retired horse to work with children and adults with special needs but these days there is a different expectation and within therapy we like a fit and healthy well-balanced horse in body as well as mind.
At Ambury Park Centre we work with a herd of 25 horses and ponies who are used to help improve body, mind and spirits of children and adults with disabilities. We provide different programmes; a school based equine programme for teenagers who don’t seem to fit in the regular school systems, a vocational programme for adults with intellectual challenges, a remedial riding programme (RDA) and physiotherapy incorporating the equine movement. (hippotherapy).
And this is where Bobby has found his career. Bobby or Hallgrimur fra Stugudal, was born in Norway in 2007 and he was added to our herd when his previous owners moved back to their home country in Europe a year and a half ago. His owners called him Boobie but with so many teenagers around we changed it into Bobby… Bobby is specifically used for hippotherapy.
The term hippotherapy refers to how occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology professionals use evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement as a therapy tool to engage sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems to promote functional outcomes. Best practice dictates that occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech-language pathology professionals integrate hippotherapy into the patient’s plan of care, along with other therapy tools and/or strategies.
Why the horse?
The average horse walks at a rate of approximately 100-120 steps per minute. Just 5 minutes on a walking horse represents 500 neuro motor inputs to the patient. In a typical therapy session, 15 to 25 minutes of equine movement may be incorporated by the treating therapist – which represents 1500 to 2500 neuromotor inputs to the patient. Incorporating hippotherapy into an occupational therapy, physical therapy or speech language pathology session can serve as a powerful tool for the facilitation of the key neuromotor systems that support function. Skilfully applied equine movement, under the direction of a therapist, can offer the patient the opportunity for complex motor learning. Hippotherapy is combined with other standard therapy tools/strategies in an intervention plan designed to address the treatment needs of the client.
Strength, Muscle Coordination and Sensory Processing used for walking, talking, and the use of fine motor skills for activities of daily living and general attention to tasks have all been shown to be positively impacted by equine movement as a facilitation tool/strategy, when under the direction of a therapist, as part of a larger total plan of care. In additional, increased motivation and participation in treatment and social emotional benefits have been reported.
Bobby takes great care of his clients big and small; his gate is so smooth that it provides very gentle balance challenges, even if keeping your head up is a challenge (as is the case Caylah in the picture on the left). As we all know being on a moving surface means you have to constantly adjust your position and his gait works very well for especially the younger children with physical challenges. He is also great for the other children who are a little anxious. With the right leader Bobby will adjust his walk and provide different sensory input to the client. And with him being approx. 14 H it gives me the ideal height to safely support/facilitate the children when necessary.
We are lucky to be situated on a big piece of council land with an indoor arena in Mangere Bridge in South Auckland, with the Ambury farm on one side and the Mangere pony club on the other side which provides us with a wide space to go hacking.
And while Bobby and the other horses and ponies have their careers and are working hard, we at Ambury Park Centre, take great care of the horses. We have plenty of paddock space for them to roam around in. We work on their fitness and mental wellbeing offering different activities being it working in hand, going out on long hacks over the farm or taking them off property to have a break from it all.
If you would like to know more about what we do please look us up on Facebook “Ambury Park Centre”. We are a charitable organisation and we love the input of volunteers and of course we accept donations.