Friday, 8 November 2013

Donkey Assisted Therapy

The emotional and physical benefits of companion animals are now being established in psychiatric hospitals and elderly care units and there is well-researched evidence that spending time with animals can have a direct calming influence.

They are also a focus for a child's affection. Even the most disturbed, agitated or withdrawn child is more relaxed when stroking or talking to the donkeys. A confidence shared with a donkey has no chance of being revealed as it can be with a human.

Learning new skills

Learning new skills in a safe and caring environment means donkey assisted therapy is also fun. 

Setting simple, achievable goals at each riding session increases the motivation of the child, raising their self-esteem and confidence that is so often lacking in many of the children who first visit the centres. The act of riding also improves balance, co-ordination and dexterity for many children.
The Donkey Sanctuary's Donkey Assisted Therapy. Photo credit The Donkey Sanctuary.

How donkeys help

Donkey  brings enjoyment and pleasure into children's lives and gives them the satisfaction that comes with the achievement of learning new skills.

Sunday, 20 October 2013


LifeStriders Therapeutic Riding Program incorporates elements of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and other modalities in order to address the needs of each client. These fun and interactive sessions focus on clients’ unique strengths in order to help them meet their individual challenges. Children and adults with special needs experience physical and mental benefits through working with horses as partners in healing.

For more information visit:

Monday, 23 September 2013

John's Story

RDA Story Becomes Animated Film

RDA’s competition-winning short story has been made into an inspiring and thought provoking animation. The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network launched the short story competition earlier this year, looking for stories that captured the essence of a charity’s work. The prize was the chance to have the story turned into an animated film.
The story describes an RDA Volunteer's experience connecting with a profoundly autistic teenager.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Understanding Horse Language: The Ethogram

Learning to understand the language of horses


An ethogram is a complete list of both social and non-social behaviours exhibited by a given species. An ethogram is a list of behaviours which can be likened to the vocabulary used in a foreign language. 

All around the globe, all horses, of every breed, use these signals. What changes is the appearance of the horses, and while this in turn can influence their ability to communicate, the signals they use are typical of the entire species.

An ethogram is a useful tool to:
1. Observe horses
2. Facilitate communication with horses
3. Study and evaluate horses behaviour

Ethograms and Scientific Research

Ethograms are the starting point for all animal studies, along with  questions such as  whether or not different breeds have different ethological profiles (Leyhausen, 1982), how much intra-specific variation exists and in what ways domestication has influenced and changed the behavioural repertoire used by animals in the wild.

Using the Ethogram in evaluating Horses

An ethogram provides a useful tool for the evaluation of horses, in that it makes it possible to produce less subjective evaluations, and to compare evaluations based on observable and recordable behaviours.

The Equid Ethogram: A Practical Field Guide to Horse Behavior Sue McDonnell PhD and The Equid Video Ethogram DVD: interactive DVD companion to the book.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Q. When is a Guide Dog not a Dog? A. When it’s a Horse!

What is a Guide Horse?
A Guide horse is the same as a Guide Dog except it is a horse!

Who is the Ideal Guide Horse Owner?

The following types of people have expressed high interest in having a Guide Horse:
  • Horse lovers - Blind people who have grown up with horses and understand equine behaviour and care are ideal candidates.
  • Allergenic people - Many people who are severely allergic to traditional guide animals and find horses a non-allergenic alternative for mobility.
  • Mature Individuals - Many people report difficulty dealing with the grief of losing their animals, and horses tend to live far longer than traditional guides. 
  • Physically Disabled folks - Because of their docile nature, Guide Horses are easier to handle for individuals with physical disabilities. They are also strong enough to provide support, helping the handler to rise from their chair. 
  • Dog Phobia - Individuals who fear dogs are often comfortable working with a tiny horse.
  • Outdoor Animal- Many individuals prefer a guide animal that does not have to live in the house when off duty.

Why use a horse?

There are many compelling reasons to use horses as guide animals. Horses are natural guide animals and have been guiding humans for centuries. In nature, horses have been shown to possess a natural guide instinct. When another horse goes blind in a herd, a sighted horse accepts responsibility for the welfare of the blind horse and guides it with the herd. With humans, many blind people ride horses in equestrian competitions. Some blind people ride alone on trails for many miles, completely relying on the horse to guide them safely to their destination. Through history, Cavalry horses have been known to guide their injured rider to safety. The Guide Horse Foundation finds several characteristics of horses that make them suitable to guide the blind:
  • Calm Nature - Trained horses are extremely calm in chaotic situations. Cavalry horses have proven that horses can remain calm even in the extreme heat of battle. Police horses are an excellent example of well trained horses that deal with stressful situations. Guide Horses undergo the same systematic desensitization training that is given to riot-control horses.
  • Great Memory - Horses possess phenomenal memories. A horse will naturally remember a dangerous situation decades after the occurrence. 
  • Excellent Vision - Because horses have eyes on the sides of their heads, they have a very wide range of vision, with a range of nearly 350 degrees. They also have outstanding night vision and can see clearly in almost total darkness.
  • Focus - Trained horses are very focused on their work and are not easily distracted. Horses are not addicted to human attention and normally do not get excited when petted or groomed.
  • Safety - Naturally safety oriented, horses are constantly on the lookout for danger. All horses have a natural propensity to guide their master along the safest most efficient route, and demonstrate excellent judgment in obstacle avoidance training.
  • Stamina - Hearty and robust, a properly conditioned Guide Horse can easily travel many miles in a single outing.
  • Manners - Guide Horses are very clean and can be housebroken. Horses do not get fleas and only shed twice per year. Horses are not addicted to human affection and will stand quietly when on duty.
The Guide Horse Foundation relies on volunteers to donate, train and deliver trained Guide Horses free-of-charge to visually impaired individuals.

Panda: A Clicker Trained Assistance Horse

Helping Hooves Guide Horses for the Blind
Janet is the pioneering horse trainer
that developed the Guide Horse Program 
Helping Hooves - Janet Burleson

As a lifelong horse training enthusiast, Janet Burleson has experimented with hundreds of horse behaviour challenges. 

With four decades of horse teaching experience, read how she trained Twinkie, the prototype first experimental Guide horse for the blind and Cuddles the first Guide horse to enter full time service as a guide animal for Dan Shaw

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Equitarian Initiative

Equitarian Initiative is a nonprofit organisation established by a group of equine veterinarians and caregivers to provide education, leadership and assistance to the working equid (and by extension their families).  

It's estimated that there are 100 million working equids in the developing world. A working equid is defined as a horse, mule or donkey that is used pirmarily for family income, agriculture and/or transportation. 

Its vision is a world where every working horse, donkey and mule receives basic health care.

Equitarian Initiative trains and inspires volunteer veterinarians to organize and deliver health care to working horses, donkeys and mules in ever-growing areas of the world, as well as to provide education for animal care providers to sustainably improve animal welfare. These objectives are accomplished by provision of direct aid, collaboration, education and inspiration.

Collaborating With Horses to Develop Emotional Intelligence

In May, 2013 The Center for Leadership Development (CFLD) completed a pilot research study on The Effectiveness of Equine Guided Leadership Education (EGLE) to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Expert Nurses. This was a two year intercollegiate collaboration between CFLD researchers, Patricia Dyk, PhD. and Lissa Pohl, MA., and University of Kentucky Healthcare's nurse researchers, Carol Noriega, RN, MSN, CEN, Janine Lindgreen, APRN and Robyn Cheung, PhD., RN.

This pilot study is one of the first of its kind to explore how working with horses can develop emotional intelligence (EQ) in humans. The project included a control group of 10 expert nurses from the Neuroscience Surgery Service Line and an intervention group consisting of 11 expert nurses from the Trauma and Acute Care Surgical Service Line at UK Chandler Hospital. Nurses in the intervention group participated in a one day workshop consisting of a facilitated process with five different horses.

All the exercises were performed on the ground and no previous experience was necessary to participate. Each exercise was designed to develop the following EQ competencies: self-awareness; self-management; social awareness; and relationship management.

Both groups took the online TalentSmart® EQ Appraisal: The ME Edition before the EGLE workshop took place with the intervention group and again six months after the first assessment was taken. Nurses from the intervention group also filled out qualitative surveys immediately after their experience with the horses and again three months after the workshop. A comparative analysis of the before and after EQ scores of both groups was conducted as well as a thematic analysis of the qualitative surveys completed by the nurses in the intervention group.

Photo of horse

The ‘before and after’ survey results showed there was an increase in the EQ scores of the intervention group in all four competency areas when compared to the control group.

“Qualitative responses from the nurses participating in the EGLE workshop clearly attribute changes in their bedside manner to lessons learned from interacting with the horses.”

These initial results are encouraging and lay the groundwork for subsequent studies of larger and more diverse populations of expert nurses using a more rigorous longitudinal design.     

This study was funded by the Dorothy Brockopp Nursing Research Award, the College of Agriculture Research Activities Award and with the generous support of Winning With Horsepower's online fundraising campaign. See below for more information on contributing to this pioneering research. 

Other Equine Assisted Learning Programs and Associations:
Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA)
Equine Guided Education Association (EGEA)
Equine Experiential Education Association (E3A) 
Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association (EFMHA) at National American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) 
EPONA Equestrian Services 
The Horse Institute
Horse Sense of the Carolinas

Monday, 17 June 2013

Would you believe it?

Nothing is impossible - it only takes determination, care and compassion!

Congratulations to the Madison Mounted Police for being such caring horse lovers to enable the hospitalized policewoman organise her horse to pay her a hospital visit.

The woman in the bed is retired Police Sgt. Karen Krahn, and the photo is taken at Agrace HospiceCare, Fitchburg, WI as she battles cancer.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Countless Australians risk their lives to save animals during bushfires and floods - why do they do it?

A PhD Scholarship is available on the ARC DECRA Project ‘Should I stay or should I go? Increasing natural disaster preparedness and survival through animal attachment’ to work with principle supervisor Dr Kirrilly Thompson who is based in the Adelaide Campus of Central Queensland University.

Countless Australians risk their lives to save animals during bushfires and floods. Many die. Animal attachment theories explain this heroic but self-destructive behaviour. However, they have not been extended to prevent it. What if the risk in wanting to save animals was also an untapped protective opportunity?
This project will determine how people’s motivation to save animals during natural disasters could be used to increase preparedness and improve survival.

By interviewing and surveying survivors of natural disasters about the impact of animals on their emergency behaviour, this innovative project will develop effective public health campaigns to improve natural disaster preparedness and save Australian lives. The project commences in 2013. For further details, click here. [pdf]

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Lessons in Therapeutic Riding

Just came across a great blog called:

'Lessons in Therapeutic Riding - lesson plans, patterns, activities, games & more for the therapeutic horseback riding instructor' 

from a PATH registered Level Therapeutic Horseback Riding Instructor (USA) who is developing a series of resources for Riding for the Disabled (RDA) coaches and volunteers. It's a great blog and a great concept with lots of great suggestions.

You too can share any RDA lesson plans, patterns or games that you feel may be a useful resource to share at:

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Joyful Horse Project

The Joyful Horse Project (Austin, Texas, USA) provides a safe-haven for the holistic rehabilitation and adoption of abandoned horses that would otherwise be bound for slaughter or compromised through neglect and ignorance.

Healing with Horses is a unique horsemanship program designed as a recreational and community-building opportunity for retired military families. Former combat veterans work one-on-one with a rescue horse and a coach while their family members enjoy the camaraderie of other military families and volunteers. The ranch setting offers a relaxed, non-competitive environment where the focus is on learning how to help rescue horses re-establish bonds of trust with people.


The foundation of the program is based on developing a working partnership with the horse. Participants learn to use body language and rope position to clearly communicate and direct the horse. They are asked to actively observe the horse’s response and adjust their own actions accordingly. This process of asking, observing and comparing responses, helps participants begin to develop a feel for the horse and learn how to improve the quality of their work together.

Veterans are amazingly well suited to the challenge of working with rescue horses. By background and training, they are keenly aware of the bonds of trust required to perform any task with sureness and confidence. These unique talents help the rescue horses overcome their fears and become more suitable for further training and adoption.
In addition, many veteran participants find that their work with the horse and coach helps to reduce their own stress and provides insights into other interpersonal relationships. Families who share the experience together find a common purpose in helping to rehabilitate the horses.

The Joyful Horse Project successfully wrapped up the Healing with Horses Pilot Veterans Program on 23 March 2013. It’s now seeking grant funding and financial support to establish an ongoing program.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Hinds’ Feet Farm

Hinds’ Feet Farm is dedicated to serving persons living with brain injury. The Hinds’ Feet Farm Day Program is a paradigm shift from the traditional medical, treatment, model for people living with brain injury, to a model that embraces a holistic health and wellness orientation, empowering members toward occupation and meaning in life post injury.

Members can choose to participate in daily, skill training, thematic-based, workshops. These workshops are grouped into several categories: cognitive, creative, functional, emotional, physical, recreational, social and vocational.

Hinds’ Feet Farm is also committed to program evaluation and outcome measures through evidence-based practice to validate the program’s efficacy, and to substantiate members’ journey of an improved quality of life, increased independence and success in their community. Hinds’ Feet Farm will initiate an outcome tracking system in collaboration with the National Brain Injury Research, Treatment & Training Foundation.

The Therapeutic Riding Program is not designed to be a standalone program, rather to complement and to enhance the activities our members are already engaged in, and offer them a broader array of program choices. As such, the riding program is offered only to Hinds' Feet Farm Members.  

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