HORSES & HANDS -- BUILDING SENSORY CONNECTIONS
Grooming and groundwork are getting to know a horse face to face; this helps develop cognitive aspects of the student. The student needs to focus on body position while not only maneuvering around the horse to brush it, but also while lifting the saddle and other equipment. The parts of the horse, how to hold certain brushes, and the amount of pressure to use while interacting with the horse are all things that need to be learned.
Horse grooming is the care given to a horse where the horse’s physical
appearance and health are enhanced. Learning to care for a horse helps
us learn to care for ourselves.
Proper grooming can promote healthy emotional bonding and trust
between the horse and student. Grooming improves sensory awareness,
spatial awareness, and basic motor skills.
Groundwork with horses consists of exercises that you do with your
horse while you stay on the ground and lead the horse. This activity
teaches the horse manners. Manners are something everyone needs to
acquire, horses included. (Even walking next to the horse can increase
control and stability of the body.)
Mental health is also an important facet. Horses are the perfect mirror, as they are very emotional beings. Some health professionals say that horses can reflect our emotions - to bring relief from addiction, stress, and pain.
Some students start off being very nervous, so a smaller horse may be preferred. If you can work with an animal like this and overcome fear, that isn’t a bad starting point.
One reason that equine-assisted activities work so well is that everyone reacts to horses in one way or another. People either love or fear horses; those are two big emotions that immediately reflect what most of life’s issues revolve around.
Equine-assisted activities can be a tremendous benefit to anyone with or without special needs.
Ever since Mark broke his arm a couple years ago, he has pampered it. It's been a challenge to get him to do his therapeutic exercises. Mark’s love of horses has helped us in ways we didn't expect. When he grooms he has to use both arms. The brushing motion is the gentle exercise he needs to strengthen his arm. Since he started grooming last year we have seen him use his arm more for his daily activities. Grooming has strengthened his arm - giving him an overall better quality of life.
Mark has a history of losing focus doing his daily tasks. When he is grooming he is close to the horse and he is 100% engaged with the task. This helps him to learn how to maintain focus.
We also work on memory exercises. After we show him the different brushes and talk about their uses we then repeat this again every time he uses the brushes. Then we have him try to tell us which brush is for which task. This memory exercise helps him outside of HART too. His caregiver can ask him specific questions about events that happened during the day and he is able to reply better than he did before we started working with the horses.
Emotionally and physically the whole experience with HART has benefited him in more ways than I could ever write down.
I'd be happy to have you join us for a lesson so you can see how it works for him. He'd like to tell you all the things he's learned how to do.
Many people associate therapeutic riding as just the riding component of the lesson.
While research has shown improvement in posture and control of the individual due to the pelvic movements of the horse, grooming and groundwork is quickly overlooked.
Grooming and groundwork activities allow for continued work of not only mental interaction, but physical gains. By allowing the individual to participate in these activities we are further challenging the core musculature, balance sensory systems, and confidence.
Grooming and groundwork allow the student to participate in these activities on his/her own feet which in turn allows for carry over of the learned pelvic movements that the horse provides during riding. Carryover then allows that student to adapt those movements, whether it be dynamic standing balance with reaching and change of directions as in grooming, or learning to navigate uneven terrain and soft surfaces during groundwork. These are all aspects of daily living that are significantly challenging to a person with disabilities.
Promotion of these further advanced skills is pertinent in progressing the student’s balance, ambulation skills, and confidence for peer to peer interaction, community and household ambulation.
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