According to an Arabian saying: “A horse without a rider is still a horse, whereas a rider without a horse is only human”. This saying may – not only for horse-lovers and riders – contain more truth as we like. The relationship between horses and humans really is special. It may even turn out to be one of the most beautiful and enriching relationships you can imagine. This might be even more likely if the human – like myself- is disabled. Personally I have been doing therapeutic horseback riding (with two long-term-interruptions) since the age of three. Here is the proof:
What started as one among quite a few therapies, meanwhile has become far more than just that. Certainly, the movements of a walking horse are probably the best choice against spasms in the legs. The warmth and the movements of the horse, in my case – lead to a degree of muscle-relaxation I never could achieve by myself. At the same time, it is necessary to stay in balance and have a level of control over my body. Horses are encouraging body-perception in a very special way. Additionally, I am doing physiotherapeutic exercises while being on the horseback. These exercises aim at improving body-coordination and body-mobility. Feel free to ask any questions about it if you like. I will answer them as honest and as soon as I can. I also plan to do regular posts of horseback riding on this page and blog.
But, the horse-virus has infected me in many ways, and if I may wish for something it would be that this is incurable. Horses are not only excellent therapists. Every single time I am close to a horse, I feel, how different they perceive me. They search contact with me, almost as if they feel, how good I feel if horses are around. The horse I love most of all is Felix and I will never ever forget how we first met:
I came into the stables and had a very long and detailed conversation with the physiotherapist. Finally, she said: Now, I am going to the stables and get your horse out for you. I could not believe. How was it possible to know which horse I ride, just by talking? A couple of minutes later, she came back. A horse entered the arena. And what a horse that was. He looked huge and wide. I have never been scared of horses but this horse extorted respect from me like I never knew before. His name was Felix. The physiotherapist said to him: You stand still and do nothing. Felix did stand. I never had seen a horse standing that straight and that still before. However, there was just a tiny bit of disobedience. After a couple of minutes, he came forward with his head and started sniffing at my feet. The physiotherapist looked at me asking the silent question: Is this ok for you? I nodded. Felix had meanwhile sniffed at my knees and was going further upwards. Finally, he barely opened his lips and “kissed” me very softly and gently right on the tip of my nose. It was probably one of the sweetest moments of my life. It was his way to say: I like you, and if you wish, this could be the beginning of a very special bond between us. This event probably changed everything. Right at this moment, I realized, that horses are so different from humans. Felix just did not care if I was able to walk, it just did not matter to him, if I could not do this or that movement or if it looked different. He allowed touching his skin, he allowed gentle feelings towards him and it looked like he was really enjoying it.
However, this special bond was not visible in the first lessons. I really felt insecure on the horseback, everything was so shaky. I had serious doubts, if it was right to restart horseback-riding-therapy, even though I really liked this horse and thought of it being a beautiful animal. In 2001, quite a few things happened. I left Felix and riding for 6 months, because I wanted to study abroad. For whatever reason, I decided that -for the first time in my life- I was going to read horse magazines while abroad. It was a spontaneous idea and the only thought I can remember is that reading these magazines would certainly enlarge my vocabulary. Strangely enough, it only took a few issues of different publications until I found an article not fitting my situation but still thrilling. A professional rider told the experts that he has a lovely horse, willing to work and that they are a good team but stuck and don’t make any further progress. Now, here is the reply of the experts. It said basically: “Stop thinking of what you want to achieve and start listening to what your horse has to say. Then, you will achieve all your goals and maybe even goals far beyond yours.” I did not understand at all. Somehow these sentences remained in my mind. Back in Germany, I decided that I could at least try to give the advice a try.I wanted to concentrate on my partner under the saddle (which we actually do not use) rather than myself. The first lesson, I wanted to concentrate on my horse’s ears, because I thought, they might just be a good distraction. It seemed like a had found a very worthy treasure. I realized how hard Felix was trying to concentrate on the therapist and me. However, for the time being, I only became aware of the fact that his ears were moving all the time. While I focused on his ears, I all of a sudden could do the exercises I was asked to do, without concentrating on what I actually did, what enabled me to do movements which in my life on the ground were hard or impossible to perform. Since that day, I decided to concentrate on something else in every riding lesson, may it be the length of his steps, his breathing or – as odd and strange it might sound – on what was happening before or while he had to poop.
Ever since then, I became I began to develop a great interest in horse behavior. Body language and expressive behavior became my main interest. The horse -often seen and declared as therapist – to me has become for more than that. It is an animal, which, as good as it can, tries to build a connection with me, to find out and take care of my needs and it wants to communicate with me. Therefore, I wanted to understand horse language. I wanted to show him, that he had triggered a change in me. I wanted to tell him that I have respect and appreciation for what he is giving to me in every minute I spend with him. I especially wanted to thank him for the fact that he never despaired of my body and my physical limitations. On the contrary: It were exactly the lessons in which I felt that my body was very different, than Felix tried to concentrate most and did care most about his task. Every time, I dismounted that horse, I realized that I gained confidence in my physical abilities, rather than focusing on my disabilities. My body was – even though limited – able to expand boundaries, regardless if I personally perceived these boundaries or if other people believed to perceive them.
I visited a few classes on horse subjects and Tanja Budnick and Marlitt Wendt together with their beautiful and diverse horses both have opened the path into a new and fascinating world to me. To everyone who accompanied me on this way, I want to say Thank you from the bottom of my heart. And, if anyone after that much enthusiasm wants to have more information on therapeutic horseback riding you may visit the pages of the Riding for the Disabled Association if you reside in Great Britain or Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (US residence). Both pages offer all necessary further information.
However, after that much text another saying still remains true. Sometimes, one picture is worth ten thousand words…
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