View Full Version : Therapy Horses

Aug. 26, 2009, 05:25 PM
I think my horse up on the giveaway board would love to be a therapy horse. He's very laid back and tolerant of any of the crazy things I come up with...like doing his first ever trail ride bareback in the rain while riding double for the first time. How he and I have both survived the last three years is a mystery! :lol: Any advice on how I could evaluate his suitability to being a therapy horse? He would hate to be fully retired and loves children so I think it might be a win/win for him. How can I find a reputable program to donate a horse to?
Hennessey and I are located in Franklin, NJ and would love to find some place localish so I could visit often.

I know of one place that would love to have him but unfortunately there setup is not good for him (limited turn out, he prefers to live out)

Aug. 26, 2009, 05:30 PM
Heres a photo of Henny for anyone interested.

Aug. 26, 2009, 06:00 PM
check out narha.org It's the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, and they have accredited farms all over the US. While I'm not trying to say that every barn on the list is great and the horses get great care, it's more likely than at a barn not on the list. To be listed I believe they have to have certified instructors, which means they ahve gone through a program, often a 4 year college degree to learn about teaching and dealing with handicapped and special needs riders, as well as the horses.

I went to St. Andrews college here in NC, and spent time volunteering with their Ride Like A Knight program for handicapped riders. It was some of the best spent time of my year there. To really evaluatea program I would advise visiting often and talking to them face to face about the program. There's a lot more to being a good therapy horse than being safe under saddle, so talk to each program you're looking at about what they require. They also usually like smaller to medium sized horses, since most of their children would be intimidated by a 17h warmblood. 14.3-15.3 QH types are the most common, but they need some variety as well.

Aug. 26, 2009, 06:04 PM
Thanks Horsegal, I'll check out that site later after work. He's on the taller side 16.1 but a bit of a um couch ;)

Aug. 26, 2009, 06:53 PM
I've volunteered at a therapeutic riding place for about 5yrs now and I've helped train several of the new horses. At our place, the horses have to tolerate someone walking on both sides of them(very closely) while being led by a third person. The horse also has to be nearly unflappable, can stand quietly for lengthy periods of time, isn't concerned about props around them or being throw off of them(bean bags, small plastic beach balls, noisy toys,etc), isn't too sensitive to weight shifting/balance(since a lot of the kids are working on improving their core and balance), and the horse can't have any horribly bad habits(nipping, kicking, nervy,etc). One more thing..the horse has to be dead quiet for grooming and on the ground.

If your horse can handle all that, then you should see if a nearby therapeutic place would be willing to evaluate him and take him. At our place, the company just leases the horses from the owners, since they are funded by a bigger company(which also funds several other autism type charities/organizations and can't afford to purchase them. good luck!

Aug. 26, 2009, 09:01 PM
Thanks Horsegal, I'll check out that site later after work. He's on the taller side 16.1 but a bit of a um couch ;)

Don't forget that some programs will work with disabled adults as well, and so even if a children's program finds him too large, he may be suitable for a program that includes more adults.

Aug. 26, 2009, 10:05 PM
I'm not exactly sure where Franklin is but Pony Power Therapies in Mahwah runs a great program (http://www.ponypowernj.com/Home.asp). I've volunteered for them and the horses are all well cared for, well fed, happy etc.

Aug. 26, 2009, 10:13 PM
I know some therapy programs require horses to have a certain motion to their movement before they will accept them. My friend wanted to donate her super quiet, unflappable QH to the local therapy program and they couldn't take him b/c he didn't have the right sort of side to side/front to back motion at the walk they needed to stimulate the kids. The founder ended up taking him for her daughter to do lead line on anyway though. Don't know how common that requirement is but might be a good thing to ask.

Aug. 26, 2009, 10:46 PM
I would love to free lease him to a program, if possible. Hennessey has nice free swinging walk. I'll get some barn friends together and try riding him with two side walkers and a leader as soon as possible. He stands nicely, tolerates me picking up/carrying/dropping/tossing things while I'm riding. His only under saddle vice is at the canter he will occasionally give a little wow I'm having fun buck, or try to keep his head between his knees. If corrected promptly he tries it less and less. But that is not a issue since he is only sound for walk and light trot work. I have taught beginner lessons on him, he deals with shifting weight, odd positions and requests very well. Thanks for all the replies. I'm having a very hard time facing these decisions regarding him. I know it will be best for him but I'm heart broken about not seeing his face everyday.

Aug. 27, 2009, 12:13 AM

you might want to look at this: http://stridestherapeutic.com/donatehorse.aspx

it's just one program's guidelines on horses that might be suitable, but many programs tend to have similar parameters.

Hope this is helpful!

Aug. 27, 2009, 06:08 AM
2LeftHooves, I want to thank you for the seriousness you are giving all of this. There is a misconception that therapeutic programs can take just about any horse as long as it is old and slow. Nothing could be further from the truth!

indygirl mentioned some of the basics that we look for. Here are some of the criteria we use:

The ability to stand at the mount for extended periods and to have a good strong (and not sensitive) back. Coordination issues make for slow and not always perfect mounting. There may be adjustments once the rider is on etc. It is not unusual for a mount to take 5 minutes or more depending upon the child, any equipment they need etc.

The ability to carry an unbalanced rider. This is VERY important. Riders for Hippotherapy may assume alternate positions on the horse such as laying across the back, riding sideways etc. I know my own Paco struggled with this at first. He would stop dead and plant it each time he felt a rider become unbalanced, bless his heart. Also, disabled riders have a tendency to be "Top heavy" with atrophied limbs which can befuddle a horse that responds good to legs.

Must respond to verbal commands without fail.

Must be able to stand quietly while being touched most everywhere

Must be able to tack up nicely

Must be able to keep working through high pitched noises and very loud sounds. Some children and adults with Autism for example communicate with very exaggerated expression.

The horse must be unflappable when exposed to wheelchairs, walkers, canes, breathing apparatus and other adaptive equipment

The horse must be in good health. While we have no issue caring for the older horse, horses with serious and expensive health needs are difficult for us for obvious reasons. 99% of the fees collected for sessions pay for care and stabling, there is just no budget for horses who require $400 a month for meds. We have been offered some that are perfect for us and have had to turn them down because of costs.

Those are some basics, but I want to stress the point that we need horses who still MOVE. Solid citizen retired schoolie packers are WONDERFUL. The more "been there, done that" they are the better! The 30 year old puff that doesn't budge really isn't what we need, our horses do still work, but at times we have needs for those old lovies too.

You can ask a local facility if they would life to come out and evaluate your horse for you. We do it all the time :yes:

Aug. 27, 2009, 09:59 AM
I trained a 6 year old appy draft cross I had for therapy work and video'ed as much as she could do before shipping her to the center in Toronto. It's broken down into three parts, starting with grooming and ground manners, moves into under saddle work and obsticles, and ends with bareback and side walking as best as could be shown with just two people to do everything. The videos have annotations for the director's benefit when she was reviewing them.


Editing to add, I use to be a volunteer for our local facility so I had some advanced knowledge of what I was training the horse to do and what she would have to be tollerant of :)

Aug. 27, 2009, 11:56 AM
Thank you so much! Henny stands well for mounting & fidgeting, how long with no one at his head I'm not so sure, but with someone at his head he'll stand for ages. When teaching my mom a impromptu lesson and again when giving my sister a short refresher, Henny coped with their poor balance often shifting to try to stay with them. He definitely has a go button but is content to take it easy. I'll start working harder on his verbal commands, he knows them but I'm sure they could use some work. Other than his soundness issue he is very healthy. If I could find the right place/program for him I would plan on donating to help cover his maintenance costs. I'm determined to do right by this horse. He means the world to me. I'll teach him/work with him on what ever he needs to know/do to be successful.

jengersnap those videos are great!

Aug. 27, 2009, 12:04 PM
Just a note: many centers will steer clear from a horse that is only sound for walk/light trot. In just about every horse, that situation will degenerate to more severe unsoundness, and sometimes this happens slowly and sometimes quickly. aAs much as we'd love to give these horses a home, and even if they'll be useful for a year or a couple of years, it is more expensive over the long run than making the investment in sound horse that we can expect will be sound for many years.
What goes unseen is that we can't just plop a new horse into the program-- they're often quarantined for a little while, and then must be tested and trialed extensively before we'll use them in class. As it's nearly fall and many programs do not run over the winter (i'm guessing in NJ this is true too), they're looking at feeding, trimming/shoeing/worming a horse that will not be productive until at least springtime. When you consider making this investment over and over, I hope you can understand why it's not attractive.
So maybe if you offer to pay all his expenses for the winter, and of course they have the option to call you next spring and return him if he doesn't work out, they'll think it's worth taking the chance.

Aug. 27, 2009, 12:41 PM
A comment on the soundness issue: different people have different ideas of "light trot work." Our program probably wouldn't take a horse that was only cleared for "light trot" because it indicates something more serious... we try not to take horses who don't have two balanced leads, for the same reason. If they don't have two leads, it indicates something underlying that we will have to deal with over time. An owner who's willing to pick up the tab for any soundness management might tip the scales in favor of a trial, but there aren't too many people who are willing to spend that sort of money so their horse can do therapeutic riding. Also, an unbalanced rider is going to be that much harder for a horse to carry so a small unevenness may be magnified both from the rider's point of view, and from the horse's. (interesting example of this: my old gelding gets hinky in his right hind. I invited a friend out for a trail ride and after 30 minutes of carrying her, at 120 lbs, both her previously broken right leg and his right hind were noticeably tired and sore - one definitely influenced the other. And this is a light, experienced rider.)

Not trying to talk you out of the idea, just offering another viewpoint. Ultimately the center will either want to talk to your vet or have their own vet do a PPE, and that information will be used to make the decision along with temperament and training. Fingers crossed that you find the right place for your gelding!

Aug. 27, 2009, 03:54 PM
Thank you for your pv betsyk. It certainly has crossed my mind. However with his age and issues the theory is he could do this kind of work for many years. Of course I would be more than happy to take him back if he didn't work out/became to much work to maintain/no longer fits in their program. I'm just trying to find a good situation for him. He's taught me so much and been such a good friend, I want him to be happy, safe and comfortable.