Horses & riding eh? Something the rich do, an activity for the ‘Horsey Set’? Well maybe not always. In #LaPaz we came across a project providing equine (horse-based) therapy for people, mainly kids & youth, with special needs. Being somewhat cynical, we were amazed by the delight & progress of the kids, as they sat & rode horses, whilst undertaking a series of mobility exercises.
It was something to warm the cockles of your heart!
Equine therapy we discovered is not something that new in the western world, but here in Bolivia it is a fairly new developing practice. The centre we found in CotaCota, in south La Paz, operates under the auspices of the Humanities Faculty of the state run university UMSA. Named ‘Ma Wawaki Saranani’ in the indigenous language of Aymaran [or ‘Vamos todos juntos como uno‘ in Spanish; ‘We go (forwards) together as one’ in English].
It is led by Prof Felix, from a horse vet background. Plus there’s physiotherapists, psychotherapists, occupational therapists, dedicated horse lovers/trainers, volunteers from UMSAs psychology department, and from projects such as UpClose Bolivia. And there are rooms for land-based therapy & support for the clients. (Info on Ma Wawaki in Spanish and English)
Their stable of some 8 horses have been mainly donated, and are then lovingly trained, so that they can work safely & happily with those with special needs – including people with cerebral palsy, down’s syndrome and autism. It transpires that riding & interacting with the horses under the careful instruction of skilled staff, does wonders for the self-esteem, confidence & mental wellbeing of the clients. At the same time the activities & exercises have been shown to help clients develop their motor skills, mobility & spacial awareness. It all happens in a fairly green, pleasant & supportive environment that impacts positively on the clients.
And then of course there is the emotional bond and intuitive communication that develops as a two-way process between the horse and client…fascinating!
Ma Wawaki has only been up and running for a year. Clients have so far paid for sessions on a sliding scale, whilst fundraising & donations have allowed some with no money to access the therapies. Just recently the University’s authorities have created an agreement that allows people with special needs to be referred to the centre to receive therapy for free, a move to be welcomed.
Lacking any skills ourselves with either horses or the therapies involved, we’ve instead helped cleaning stables and maintaining the physical environment. In return we’ve not only been able to witness the equine therapy in action, but have also been allowed a couple of early morning sessions (at 7am) to experience the exercises clients undertake. The first time ever on a horse for one of us, and the first ride in 30 years for the other! – huge thanks to the wonderful Doris the therapist for giving us her time & experience!
Ma Wawaki welcomes donations & support, and is also developing an ‘adopt a horse’ scheme. Get in touch with them if you can help – details here or Facebook.
What is equine therapy (US) Stength in Horses (UK) Horses helping People (UK)
Red Horse Foundation (Stroud, UK)