When it comes to your plans for your horse’s retirement, is donating him to a therapeutic riding program an option? Donating your horse to a therapeutic riding program may seem like an ideal option, but therapeutic riding horses need to possess a very special set of skills. Could your horse make the cut? Consider the following must-have characteristics.
Above all else, therapeutic riding horses need to be calm and patient. They cannot be highly reactive or spooky, since this would put their riders at risk. A therapeutic riding horse should be able to take strange and new situations in stride.
It is a common misconception that therapeutic riding horses have an easy job of just walking around. That’s not true. In fact, working as a therapeutic riding horse can be physically demanding, since the horse must compensate for unbalanced riders. Some therapeutic riding horses are asked to trot or canter, and may carry riders who bounce against their backs. A therapeutic riding horse must be sound and strong enough to work in multiple lessons per week.
Tolerance is a major factor in any therapeutic riding horse’s job. A good therapeutic riding horse will be tolerant of all sorts of different situations, from a rider playing games off of his back to being in close quarters with other horses and humans.
A therapeutic riding horse will be confronted with conflicting stimuli, and he needs to be focused enough to pay attention at the task at hand. For instance, a horse may need to carry a rider who has little control of his body. The rider may sway back and forth or thump his legs against the horse inadvertently. A therapeutic riding horse needs to be stoic enough to ignore issues like rider imbalance, while still remaining sensitive and focused enough to recognize and obey the rider’s signals to move forward, stop, and turn.
If you wish to donate your horse to a therapeutic riding program, then find a particular program that you feel would be a good match. Programs are always expanding and now include riding, driving, vaulting, emotional support and more.
Give the program director a call and ask about the process of donating and evaluating a donation horse. Many riding centers have intensive evaluation and training processes for their horses.
When donating your horse, make sure to find out what your responsibilities as the former owner will be, including what will happen if he doesn’t make that initial cut. You should also ask what options will be available when your horse can no longer be of service to the program.
If you don’t have an appropriate horse to donate to a therapeutic program, remember that there many other ways to help support these programs. Donate money or volunteer your time to work with the horses and/or the riders. It’s a great feeling!
For more information on therapeutic programs, visit the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH) website.
Photo credit: Forward Stride