Reading with Horses – Equine therapy

Discover the transformative power of “Reading with Horses” – a unique program blending equine therapy with reading support. Join us at The Herd – Polo Pony Sanctuary in Seaview, where kids struggling with reading can choose their “reading buddy” from 17 horses.

Led by experienced groom Lovemore, these sessions aim to reduce anxiety, build confidence, and make reading a joy. Partnering with riding clubs, this experimental program welcomes donations in cash or treats for our equine friends. Be part of this exciting journey where horses become silent allies in the quest for literacy and emotional well-being.

I can’t remember when my love for horses began.

I do recall my brother, Mike, buying me a toy horse as a birthday present. It was light brown with a black mane and tail and the saddle and bridle could be removed. I played with it often and would brush its tail and plait its mane. I used to build a barn out of books for it and of course, I read the book “Black Beauty” so often, I could practically recite the whole book with my eyes closed. .

I started riding lessons at about 7 or 8 years old. I was definitely not cut out to be a ballet dancer, and while all my friends at school were going to ballet lessons on a Saturday morning, my mom would take me to riding lessons out at Greenhaven Riding School and then later to Rothman’s. I absolutely loved it!!!

Actually, it must have been in the early grades because I remember having to sit and practice my handwriting and Maths first, and then I could go for the riding lesson. Talk about bribery and corruption, but it worked!

One particular time, we went on an outride and this was fun because we would walk around Lorraine, cross over fields and roads, and then have a canter in the forest and even do some jumps over some fallen trees. But that morning, something happened and I can’t clearly remember what exactly went down, but I vaguely remember my pony getting spooked while we rode through a ditch he swerved to the left and my foot came out the saddle and I flew over his shoulder and landed on the ground on my right arm. I had to walk back to the stables leading my pony as my arm was too painful to ride. My mom took me for x-rays which confirmed a green-stick fracture. I wasn’t able to ride for a few weeks while the arm healed but when I was given the all-clear, my brother drove me to my first lesson back. I started feeling really nervous, the butterflies in my tummy, which I thought was excitement, turned into crazy bats and my sweaty palms and racing heartbeat made me extremely unhappy. I begged him to take me home, which he did. It was years before I was able to get back onto a horse again.

Since then, I have had a few different encounters with horses. I leased a horse for about a year, but could only ride if in an enclosed space and if someone was close by in case something happened. I’ve ridden with a group, asking for the oldest and most bomb-proof horse and only if I could be in the middle of the line of riders and not in front or at the end. I’ve taken my sons to riding lessons and led them around the arena, and most recently, I volunteer at our horse unit in Gqeberha, to try and build up my confidence again with these big, beautiful beasts.

I’ve read a lot about horse behavior, trying to understand what happened that day and why I wasn’t able to remain in the saddle. I’ve also tried to understand why I became so anxious and couldn’t just get back in the saddle and pick up where I left off. Should I have ridden back, sore arm, and all? Did I take too long to go back? Should I have still gone that day when I was so anxious, maybe not to ride but just to be there around horses again?

Equine TherapyExposure therapy is supposed to help with fears and phobias, and so I suppose going to the horse unit to groom, feed and give the equines some TLC has been beneficial for me in so many ways. There are days where I’m feeling a bit down and after just being in their presence, I feel better. Other days I’m all peopled out and I’m needing a different kind of company. Some days I don’t know what I’m feeling but I go anyway and as I’m driving away, I’ll just start crying or I’ll be smiling again. I guess without delving into the science behind equine therapy, there is so much benefit. I’ve heard that horses are able to help people with PTSD, depression, anxiety and addiction. Children with autism and Down syndrome are able to communicate with horses in their own way and visa versa.

My love and respect for equines and wanting to help others in my career as a remedial reading therapist, has brought me to this next chapter in my career. Reading for some children, can be extremely frustrating and stressful. I have witnessed so many young people develop an aversion to books, so much so that they can’t study for exams, they avoid having to write and then read their own work and reading for pleasure is just not part of their world. I also know of so many adults who can’t and don’t want to read.

I am investigating the benefits of reading with horses, especially if the person is anxious to read in public, or is struggling to decode words, or just has a negative attitude towards books and having to read. I am interested to find out whether the horses will be curious to come and see what this person with the book is going to do. I think when you have something that you are struggling with, you need someone who will understand, who won’t have an opinion, who will just hold space and be there, listening and giving subtle signs that they quite like what it is that you are doing. That’s called positive reinforcement and don’t we all need positive reinforcement…to encourage us to keep on at it, to not give up, to keep trying, practice makes perfect and there’s no rush. I’m here with you.

The “Reading with Horses” programme is a bit of an experiment for me, but an exciting one. I am partnering with riding clubs and liveries to provide the reading buddies that form a very important part of the programme. One of the places that I’ve connected with is The Herd – Polo Pony Sanctuary in Seaview. This is a NPO that provides a ‘forever-home’ for injured, rescued and retired polo ponies. The Herd has a right to life policy meaning that no equine is put to sleep unless they are suffering and it is in the best interest to humanely do so.

During the school holidays and on weekends, we’ll be inviting kids who struggle with reading, for whatever reason, to just spend time with horses in their beautiful green surroundings at The Herd – Polo Pony Sanctuary and read – their book of choice. Kids will be able to select their “reading buddy” from the 17 horses and with assistance from beloved groom, Lovemore, the “buddy” will be brought along to assist with the reading session.

Horses have an amazing way of sensing just what the person needs to feel better…they are keenly aware of emotional energies and are honest and present when we just need a friend. My hope with this “Reading with Horses” program, is that children will feel less anxious, they will build up more confidence and then we can slowly delve into the reasons why reading might be a struggle for them. The reading program will be on a first come first served basis, bring a book of your choice and donations will be most welcome in the form of cash, a bag of carrots or apples for the horses.

And who knows, maybe you might want to bring a book and come and read too!

Open chat
Welcome to Education Services.
How can we help?