July 15th was National I Love Horses Day. Although it’s not an official date on the UK calendar, we encouraged our Twitter followers and Facebook friends to mark the day by hugging a horse.
In reality, for us it only means spending the day like we spend all others! But it’s also a great opportunity to tell others about the ways in which being with horses can benefit us humans – simply by making us feel better.
Equine therapy is a growing complementary health treatment, used to help children and adults with Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome or with mental illness such as depression or anxiety.
Here at Park Lane Stables, we work with Richmond Aid on a project called Stepping Stones – i.e. stepping stones to employment. When someone has had a nervous breakdown, suffered an illness or injury and has been out of work for some time, they often lose confidence and the inclination to even go out of their own home. We offer a space for them to carry out set tasks at the stables with support. This is to give them confidence and something for their cv so they can go on and look for employment elsewhere. But as well as building skills, they also make friends here - and just being with the horses makes them feel better.
One person who came to us was a profoundly deaf gentleman who developed agoraphobia and who could not even leave his own home. However he was able to eventually come to the stables as a volunteer, and is now out and about, looking for paid work and is much happier.
A lady with severe depression also came to us. Her husband had passed away after they had been together for many, many years. She had no other family. This lady came to us sometimes for only a couple of minutes at a time, but built up to grooming the ponies - and even had a little ride at one point. On days when she felt so low she couldn't leave her home, we took the pony to her house so she could look out of the window. This lady told us that we changed her life; although it wasn't us but the healing power of the horses. She has since moved away to live with her sister and is doing really well.
Another gentleman who spent time with our horses had previously worked as an accountant before having a nervous breakdown and being unable to work. He is now slowly gaining confidence to return to the life he had before, personally and professionally.
We also recently held a job club here for people with disabilities who have not worked for a long time. They came to the stables and we gave a little talk about the building and the horses, while they interacted with the horses and experienced something different. We also shared ideas about looking for suitable work.
And for parents who have children with ASD or other disabilities, we offer some respite. The children are dropped her after school by school bus and stay until 6pm, giving the parents a break.
But it is the healing power of our ponies and horses that helps us to help others. So even though the 15th of July won’t be around for another year hug a horse if you can - or give one a gentle pat!