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Job requirements for a therapy horse?

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  • Job requirements for a therapy horse?

    My gelding, aka, The Living Sofa, just developed a problem that will end his show career. Mentally, he's not ready to turn up his toes and would probably like an easy job. I am not looking to sell him or even to get someone else to pay his bills. I would like to find him a way to be used, adored and fed mints every day.

    What are the job reqs for a horse in a therapy program? (This one may be too tall at 16.1.d He is broke and very, very kind.) How do I go about finding a place near me (CT?)

    Any experience with this, good bad or ugly? I'd be grateful for you input here or by PM. Other suggestions are welcome, too.

    Thanks!
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat

  • #2
    I'm sure others can answer your question in more detail, but I can tell you my experience from the donation side of things. I donated a 6 year old mare to a therapy programme once, and it worked out well. I simply did a Google search for nearby riding for the disabled places and sent off an email, being 100% honest about her strengths and weaknesses. They DO need to be very quiet and able to be bombproofed around all the toys and equipment the therapists use, which is probably more challenging than the riding itself. However, the centre I found was willing to put the time in and work with the horse on these things, and it was wonderful receiving photos and updates and knowing she was doing good work. I think they were particularly willing to take her on because they knew i would have her back should things not work out. Good luck!

    Comment


    • #3
      nahra.org

      If you go to the nahra.org website, you can locate centers near you. 16.1 is not too large at all, and he would be welcomed. The work is more mentally stressful for a horse than you might think. There's usually a lot of extraneous movement on and around the horse, and their patience gets tested. If "Around the World" makes him unhappy, he won't like the job. Make sure they know you want to "lease" him to them and can co-pay his expenses, as this economy has hit the non-profits directly. You also don't want them to be able to sell him without your agreement.


      I used to help with choosing horses for SIRE, Houston's Therapeutic Riding Center. We would go and "test" them by doing silly things like tossing large round balls all over and under them, opening umbrellas, pushing wheelchairs, etc. The thing that spooked almost all of them was the sound of Velcro unfastening! (Lots of Velcro braces, shoes, etc. with physically challenged riders). They also need horses schooled enough to show at Special Olympics and the other venues. Some riders get good enough to hit the local circuits.


      Mostly, the horse is a tool of therapy to stretch and loosen muscles, teach balance and trunk control, teach impulse control, practice speaking and communicating, help with coordination and mobility. Horses are a heck of a lot more fun- and therefore motivating - than most other physical therapy.

      Comment


      • #4
        As an instructor I would say the biggest thing is to be very forgiving and able to put up with the mental stress of the job. It's easy in the sense that it is mostly walking and the occasional trotting, but the field is mentally hard for people and horses. If your horse is one that enjoys work outside of the ring I would try to arrange to take your horse off property for a nice long trail ride (or just something different) during breaks in the sessions. We have one last 6 week session before the majority of riding is done for the winter and about half of the horses, who are saints, are ready for a break. They love their riders and do an amazing job, but they are ready for some down time too. If you were leasing I would try to arrange it so you could go for a trail ride or even take your horse off property for a vacation when the schedule allowed.

        Other things to put up with are being used to bouncing balls, balls being thrown off of them, being able to hand sidewalkers on both sides and standing still to be mounted from the block or from a ramp. (These skills can be learned, but horse needs to be the forgiving, caretaker sort to keep doing the job for a while. Also, even horses who are GREAT at this line of work deserve a change in career or a long break at times too.)

        16.1 isn't too tall. 17.1 would be pushing it, but 16.1 is ok.
        "You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
        you have a right to be here." ~ Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

        Comment

        • Original Poster

          #5
          Thanks for your replies-- especially the remarks about this job being harder than it looks.

          This horse is softie in many senses of the word. He's forgiving and quiet, and his instinct is to stop and stare rather than spin or run when he's not sure. He is also used to taking correction and has done lots of different kinds of work from showing to moving cattle to trail trials with all kinds of weird obstacles. I think he could adjust to this kind of work, but I appreciate the warning that he'd need a break from time to time.

          I'll follow up with the nahra website and keep all of these ideas in mind. I'll let you know if he takes up this line of work.
          The armchair saddler
          Politically Pro-Cat

          Comment


          • #6
            general job requirements

            This is from a specific program, but overall is one of the best summaries I have found. Each programs requirements and can-work-with may vaary, though... worth checking into. I agree that size may not be an issue--riders come in all shapes and sizes.

            Hope this helps! http://www.saddleupnashville.org/abo...e-criteria.pdf

            Comment


            • #7
              Not much to add as far as therapy goes, but sorry to hear about your horse MVP.

              You've probably thought of this but maybe you can find a nice, really low-key ammie to lease him? There are so many women out there who just want to hack a few days a week, groom, and stuff them with carrots.

              Good luck!!
              We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.

              Comment

              • Original Poster

                #8
                FlashGordon-- Thanks for your kind thoughts.

                My gelding developed his first ever lameness issue this summer and then his body lied to him/us just like a sleazy company might lie to a loyal 55-year-old employee: "I know it looks bad, but you'll like a bit of time off. It's just temporary, honest. If you pack up your stuff and leave quietly this Friday, you'll be back in 60 days. Here, the security guard will help carry your boxes."

                Mmm hmm.

                So I'm not sure how much he'll be capable of doing once I have tried the treatments that seem reasonable. I don't want to put him or any leasee into a situation where expectations are not met. We'll have to feel our way along.

                I assumed, perhaps naively, that genuine w-t-c soundness was not demanded of most therapeutic riding program horses. I also hoped that this horse's really nice mind plus a career spent taking all kinds of whacky orders from me might qualify him for this job. He'd probably be very happy to put up with velcro, a hula hoop around the neck and even an unbalanced rider so long as someone could let him know just what he was supposed to do underneath all that. If his rider can explain that all this is "not his problem"-- he'll chill.
                The armchair saddler
                Politically Pro-Cat

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by mvp View Post
                  I assumed, perhaps naively, that genuine w-t-c soundness was not demanded of most therapeutic riding program horses.
                  Alas, when you've got some riders that balance approximately as well as a sack of potatoes who have limited muscular control and may weigh up to 200 pounds, the horse absolutely needs to move soundly. There's no room for an additional balnace-boggling variable like horse soundness.

                  He'd probably be very happy to put up with velcro, a hula hoop around the neck and even an unbalanced rider so long as someone could let him know just what he was supposed to do underneath all that. If his rider can explain that all this is "not his problem"-- he'll chill.
                  But that's the thing about being a therapy horse. He needs to be ready for the unexpected at any moment, with no additional training or prompting, and he needs to be prepared to ignore 90% of what his rider does (and only selectively apply the other 10% if it seems safe and reasonable to do so). What horsie is supposed to do could change at any given moment--the autistic kid could throw a holy fit, the Down Syndrome kid could get so excited that she squeals with joy and starts hitting the horse's neck REALLY HARD, the person with some kind of paralysis or back injury could suddenly lose all muscular control, some other therapy kid could throw a ball across the arena right into your horse's eye, etc.

                  Seriously, other than the horses I already knew who were in a NARHA program, I have known three horses EVER who fit that job description. It's really tough work.
                  Head Geek at The Saddle Geek Blog http://www.thesaddlegeek.com/

                  Comment

                  • Original Poster

                    #10
                    Holy Hard Job, Batman!

                    I have been impressed and humbled by these descriptions of the therapy horse's job.

                    I'd like to think this one could do it or be taught, but I have never made a horse of this description, so I'm not really qualified to say. Most places seem to want a trial period and that would suit me fine. My gelding might have to get out his blue interview suit. Or the initial discussion could scare us off. Either way, I'll help him with his job search-- you know, making some calls and helping him bring his resume up to date.
                    The armchair saddler
                    Politically Pro-Cat

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Just a little more to add

                      Certainly check out NARHA.org and look for a premiere accredited center- these centers are accredited by NARHA by an on-site visitor to ensure they meet the standards of practice

                      If the center provides mostly therapeutic/adaptive riding, provided by a therapeutic riding instructor, the requirements are often going to center around the horse being forgiving of riders who give confusing aids or lack coordination in their riding. Size is often of a broader range and horses with "smaller" gait are often favored as riders are more easily able to stay with the horse. Horse should lead well and tolerate sidewalkers. Horse may not have to tolerate position changes (around the world).

                      If the center is providing therapy/hippotherapy, provided by a physical, occupational or speech therapist, then the response to the client is less of an issue. The horse must respond to the horse handler (leader or long liner). The horse MUST have good movement and often can be a more expressive mover as mostly the walk is used and a more forward horse with good impulsion is wonderful. Height is more of an issue here because the therapist may want/need to do hands on facilitation. The horse will need to tolerate position changes and many toys/props if the therapist works with a pediatric population. This would not be a concern if the therapist works with an adult population.

                      If the center is providing therapy/psychotherapy, provided by a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist, then the horse may or may not be ridden at all. The horse must be social and safe on the ground. The horse may be "permitted" to have more of a personality- meaning a horse that is more flighty or pushy may be accepted into a psychotherapy/equine facilitated mental health program then into a therapeutic riding program. Size is generally not as much of a concern in this type of program.

                      Each center will have additional requirements, but soundness and a kind temperament are a great start.
                      Karma and Drifter girl
                      http://www.horsescanhelp.com
                      http://www.mydriftersjourney.blogspot.com

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        lameness is relative

                        He sounds like a wonderful guy. If he's head bobbing lame at the walk, it won't work. If he's lame at trot/canter, it could work. If it's just a mistep now and then, he's like all of our horses. It just depends on what the center that's trying him needs. So definitely check it out, as the need is great. I guarantee if you go watch him work, you'll be volunteering. It's very fun and really helpful for the clients. ( We are all one accident/illness away from being clients.) These are the most valuable horses on this or any other planet!

                        FWIW - we were always competing with mounted police unit of HPD for horses. Their height requirements were taller. And they didn't like greys, but they got over that.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by mvp View Post
                          FlashGordon-- Thanks for your kind thoughts.

                          My gelding developed his first ever lameness issue this summer and then his body lied to him/us just like a sleazy company might lie to a loyal 55-year-old employee: "I know it looks bad, but you'll like a bit of time off. It's just temporary, honest. If you pack up your stuff and leave quietly this Friday, you'll be back in 60 days. Here, the security guard will help carry your boxes."

                          Mmm hmm.
                          Ah yes I know this all too well....

                          As some have said, I do think requirements can vary widely from center to center. Some are willing/able to put training on the horses. Some are willing to accept some soundness issues. Seems to depend, at least from what I've seen at local centers here in Western NY.

                          I know one local place that turned down a little appy pony because there was some question of soundness. My friend ended up with the pon,y and 8 years later she's still going strong, cleaning up at local shows, trail riding, and giving pony rides to little ones. Who knows why they turned her down, she would have been the perfect therapy horse!

                          Other alternatives maybe..... we have a program an hour or two south that gives inner city kids the opportunity to ride. They take good care of their horses and they are not quite as stringent on their requirements as the true therapy centers. Horses need to be kind, safe, and beginner-proof but that's about it. Perhaps something like that would suit your boy.

                          Kudos to you for investigating all your options. I'm sure you'll find the appropriate job for your big dude. He sounds like a good egg.
                          We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            All of the above is true. I will add, however, that some programs do have riders sufficiently far enough along in their skills to w/t/c and do low fences and show. Thus a been there, done that, older quiet horse who is unflappable and sound enough with light regular work, can fit in. My TB did a year as a 9 year old, mostly working with the kids who were higher functioning. His biggest fan was a blind boy who w/t/c all independantly. DIfferent programs and different riders have different needs. Not to get your hopes up, but just be aware that ONE turndown may not be the end. Good luck, and bless your heart for considering this option!
                            Do not take anything to heart. Do not hanker after signs of progress. Founder of the Riders with Fibromyalgia clique.

                            Comment

                            • Original Poster

                              #15
                              Just an update-- I spoke with one well-established program in my area and looked at the guidelines offered by others. Man, the therapy peeps want a truly amazing horse! And it should be donated, or better, free leased.

                              Posters here had made me realize that the job was mentally hard, but it sounds physically hard, too. The reputable (but big) center I spoke with would like a horse to do 10-12 lessons a week, walk, trot but perhaps some canter and no bute. This makes the average school horse's job look like a cake walk.

                              I know there are other places with less stringent soundness requirements and work loads. I'll just take my time and find them.

                              It would be really cool if this horse could do equine assisted psychotherapy. The horse is in the same "golden lab" good mood every day and will be affectionate and tender or playful depending on the attitude and behavior his handler invites. When working with him loose or in hand, you can just about see the little wheels turning around in his head; he is predictable and slow.

                              He would be great "starter horse" for the very unsure, soft-hearted or otherwise fragile client, but he might put up with someone whose instinct was to bully him a bit.

                              I'll let you guys know what turns up. As he (we, really, I) look for a job we're already thinking about how to negotiate for vacation time. This gelding is, after all, a born slacker.
                              The armchair saddler
                              Politically Pro-Cat

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Something to think about: Sometimes you run into students who are perhaps just well-abled enough NOT to be in a NARHA program, but still need a very sympathetic horse to be their special horse of a lifetime. I'm thinking of Special Olympics riders, for example. There was a wonderful story on COTH not so long about about some brokebrokebroke hunter/jumper who went to live out his twenties as a special little girl's leadline horse.

                                Assuming you can find a suitable match, that is often a charmed life for a horse like yours. Not as much work as therapy, not as unpredictable of a schedule, and still tons of treats and love. Especially if you're willing/able to partially support the horse's care.

                                I have NO idea how you'd locate such a person.
                                Head Geek at The Saddle Geek Blog http://www.thesaddlegeek.com/

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by mvp View Post
                                  Just an update-- I spoke with one well-established program in my area and looked at the guidelines offered by others. Man, the therapy peeps want a truly amazing horse! And it should be donated, or better, free leased.

                                  Posters here had made me realize that the job was mentally hard, but it sounds physically hard, too. The reputable (but big) center I spoke with would like a horse to do 10-12 lessons a week, walk, trot but perhaps some canter and no bute. This makes the average school horse's job look like a cake walk.
                                  Why wouldn't we need something like that? I hope no ones reads this as harsh sounding, but we have children and adults with special needs...in the case of Hippotherapy, the horse is part of a professional medical team. For some reason people think our riders don't really ride? If anyone is interested they can read the Special Olympics Equestrian Program info here. It is aPDF and quite lengthy.

                                  http://www.specialolympics.org/uploa...equestrian.pdf

                                  An because the centers rely on donations to cover these VERY EXPENSIVE programs (think triple the liability insurance sometimes, think piles of adaptive tack, ramps...more than I can list), no...we will not buy a horse. We receive no state or federal funding (another myth) and most programs struggle financially because of those never ending vet bills. Just like everyone else. But the real problem is that the riders for bonds with their horses, just like we do. We need safe, sound, reliable mounts for our riders so that they receive the most benefit. Free leasing works great for us because the horses typically go through at least 30 days of training before they are even considered for service. If all parties go into the agreement realizing that there is a better chance that the horse wont work out than the other way around...everyone goes into it with more realistic expectations.

                                  It's so much more than a ride. And I love every minute of it.
                                  I Loff My Quarter Horse & I love Fenway Bartholomule cliques

                                  Just somebody with a positive outlook on life...go ahead...hate me for that.

                                  Comment

                                  • Original Poster

                                    #18
                                    Just to be clear... and veering off into a rant

                                    No, my post was not meant to imply that disabled riders or the programs that support them deserve anything less than "the best" when it comes to horses.

                                    I was impressed to learn that they wanted these extraordinary horses for free. Insofar as they get them, I suppose its not a problem.

                                    Whatever my horse's attributes and my willingness to work with a program with a free lease and whatever trial they'd like, perhaps were are not up to par. I'll keep that in mind. My purpose in posting here was to explore an option and look, not to raise hackles.
                                    The armchair saddler
                                    Politically Pro-Cat

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by mvp View Post
                                      No, my post was not meant to imply that disabled riders or the programs that support them deserve anything less than "the best" when it comes to horses.

                                      I was impressed to learn that they wanted these extraordinary horses for free. Insofar as they get them, I suppose its not a problem.

                                      Whatever my horse's attributes and my willingness to work with a program with a free lease and whatever trial they'd like, perhaps were are not up to par. I'll keep that in mind. My purpose in posting here was to explore an option and look, not to raise hackles.
                                      no hackles raised at all mvp! I just wanted to share that it is a very common misconception that we only take horses that don't move And there is also a stereotype that because most of the horses are donated that we can be a dumping ground for horses people don't want. I wasn't saying that's what you were doing, if anything you are took much more time and researched it more than 99% of the calls I have taken this year from potential donors.

                                      It is a difficult and rewarding job for everyone who does this, including the horse! It is a rare and beautiful thing when the right one comes along. I am blessed to have two of them here right now at my farm.
                                      I Loff My Quarter Horse & I love Fenway Bartholomule cliques

                                      Just somebody with a positive outlook on life...go ahead...hate me for that.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        You would be surprised (or maybe not) how many calls we get that want to "donate their [lame] horse" to our therapeutic riding program and take it back once it's sound again.

                                        We also have the issue where everyone thinks we just want 30+ year old plugs that can only walk while on bute. We have *finally* just reduced our herd to have no horses on bute because we just can't afford to care for horses that need more than just pasture and hay and a little grain.

                                        Our most ideal horse right now is 21 year old, sound as bell, was jumping a week before he was donated. He's a little taller than we usually like but he's quiet when required and he's sound at WTC and has great movement.

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