More properly, riding for the disabled is a way by which the gait of a horse can be incorporated to help a rider who has little or no control of their lower limbs. This could come through an accident, or a congenital condition. Many people, disabled in some way, have found that they can improve their life through either some therapeutic program with a horse, which could be anything from being placed on the back of an animal, surrounded by side-walkers, a leader and a number of medical experts – to just learning to ride for its own pleasure. A young girl with polio famously once learnt to ride and she went on to win the Silver at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 in Dressage proving that people with disabilities can participate in sports – this long before the introduction of the Paralympics in 1960.
Long-term local resident Barbara Napier worked as a young woman in California with disabled children and, betimes, enjoyed her hobby of horseback riding. The two disciplines were always going to come together. She was a board member, for a number of years, on the Federation of Riding for the disabled International (now re-named as the HETI) and represented Spain.
On Sundays, Barbara and I drive to a stable outside the city of Almería. There, we join a group of friends – including a riding instructress, a physiotherapist and a psychologist – and work with some special needs children. This is true hippotherapy, with a growing number of disabled children attending each week: children with cerebral palsy, autism, genetic disorders, some hemiplegics and quadriplegics. Barbara and her friends and volunteers have recently resuscitated ‘Animo’, Spain’s first animal assisted therapy charity, started by Barbara in 1986 (and based then in Mojácar) until her health made it impossible to continue some ten years ago.
Barbara has almost completed a book about her experiences over the past ten years, it’s called ‘Riding For My Life’ and it details how a regular course on horseback (with and under expert tutelage) can save one’s life by slowing down or reversing sickness or extreme cures like chemotherapy.
Animo is a nationally registered charity and Barbara’s personal webpage can be found at animospain.blogspot.com