Vesta Burmeister founded the entity, Therapeutic Horse Riding of which she is the sole proprietor, in 2009 after she obtained her qualifications and specialized in horse training with the North American Riding for Handicapped Association (NARHA). She obtained her first degree, B.A. Sport Science, from the University of Stellenbosch in 2003 and a further degree, B.A. Recreation Therapy, from the California State University Northridge in 2008.
The entity is established on a farm very close to Windhoek where one can smell the earth, feel the sun on your face and see the trees and mountains - Vesta is the facilitator and the horses do the whispering. The main purpose of the Recreation Therapy, a health care and human service discipline, is to deliver treatment services designed to restore, remediate and/or rehabilitate functional capabilities for persons with injuries, chronic illnesses and all types of disabling conditions.
What is therapeutic horse riding?
Therapeutic Horse Riding, also known as an Equine Assisted Activity or Adaptive Riding is for individuals with a range of physical, emotional, cognitive, and social disabilities/challenges.
Therapeutic Riding Vs Regular Riding
Therapeutic Riding is different from the traditional riding. Since individuals partaking in therapeutic riding have various needs that are identified, each lesson is structured to focus on the improving of that specific need and each horse is carefully chosen for that individual.
If you have a client with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) you would choose a horse that would be more challenging to the rider in the sense that the horse does not react immediately to the rider and is a bit more energetic. This will help the rider to keep focused on the task and to get the horse to do as they ask. The instructor would also incorporate a lot of sequencing into the lesson. Thus the rider needs to keep his/her attention focused in order to finish the task successfully. Having a lot of movement, like trotting and cantering, and various games to keep the rider interested and stimulated is essential.
A person with depression (or depression tendencies) will need a horse that is calm and collected. In this case it is very important to set up the lesson in such a way that the rider will succeed. It is of vital importance to praise even the smallest achievements and to encourage task completion to enable self-confidence and self-esteem to develop and to grow.
A person with cerebral palsy who has high muscle tone (spastic) will need a horse that has a narrow trunk so that the person is not over-stretched whilst sitting on the horse. The horse also needs to have a steady gait so that the movement of the horse is not too bouncy which may cause the rider to have involuntary reflexes and go into spasticity. The lesson also needs to be structured in such a way that the rider will be able to relax, stretched and the appropriate games, exercises and activities are strategically planned and executed specific to the individual`s needs.
Benefits of Therapeutic Riding
Therapeutic Riding is based on the beneficial movement of the horse. The three-dimensional, rhythmical motion of a horse stimulates and works the muscles of the rider. The input to a rider from the horse`s gait is almost identical to the human gait. This three-dimensional , rhythmical motion thus stimulates and works the muscles if the rider and provides normal sensory-motor input of `walking` to the rider.
Forming a partnership with a 500 kg animal can offer a tremendous sense of freedom and independence to individuals with various needs and can promote feelings of trust and self-worth.
In addition, exercises and tasks that might normally be considered dreary or a `chore` in traditional therapy settings become fun and game-like if they are part of a riding therapy session.
Being on a horse includes that fear factor which adds a completely different aspect. Riders focus so much on the horse and accomplishing the task that they are often unaware if the actual therapy they are doing. When accomplishing these tasks it leaves individuals with an amazing sense of mastery.
Horses reflect off of the rider and thus `mirror` the emotional state the riders are in. Thus, if one has an anxious and/or nervous rider, they will have an anxious and/or nervous horse. This teaches riders self-awareness, self-control and also the awareness of how you are capable of influencing yourself and your circumstances. Horses also help people feel in control of their situation because there is a direct correlation between action and reaction.
The student who interacts with their horse may extend this to others and be able to form meaningful relationships with people. Building a relationship with an animal is very rewarding in many aspects; for a person with an emotional, social or psychological disability, the trust and loyalty of an animal demonstrates to the student how important they are and they may then extend these attributes to personal relationships.
The sometimes unpredictable nature of animals and situations also creates a real-life environment in which students will be able to confront fears and make adjustments to situations beyond their control.
Examples that Therapeutic Horse Riding works
A young girl initially had an immense fear of the horses but over a long period she came closer and closer and one day the instructor, without the girl`s approval, picked her up and put her on the horse. That day the triumph, the absolute overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment of that charmed moment changed this shy little girl`s world.
A little boy of 10 could not speak when he started the therapy because he was mentally retarded as a result of emotional trauma. He could not form words and communicated through a kind of sign language and drawing. Over the months he fostered a mysterious relationship with the horse and eventually started talking to it. It took 2 years but he is speaking to people now.
Dear Michelle Mclean and trust team,
We want to give you our most sincere gratitude for your generosity and support and we would like to share with you some of our progression.
With your finacial support Nicole was able to join the therapeutic riding team. She is a professional horse rider and has won numerous competitions in show jumping and other events.
She is currently giving riding lessons to some of the children in the program, bringing in a different aspect we can offer our riders. She is also receiving training in working with people with disabilities while we are working with the children with various disabilities and age groups.
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