The children come from the Father Ray Center for Children with Special Needs, a project managed by the Father Ray Foundation. The Center welcomes children with cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, autism and learning difficulties. It is the only center in the Pattaya area that offers an education, therapy and support to these children and their families.
The use of horses in therapy, or equine assisted therapy, was first written about by the Greeks in the 5th century as a way of rehabilitating wounded soldiers. In the early part of the last century the British were using horses and it became popular in the 1950s when treating soldiers injured in World War II.
Danish polio victim Liz Hartnell spent several years receiving this type of therapy, and went on to win a silver medal in the dressage competition at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
The children who attend the weekly sessions at Horseshoe Point are unlikely to ever win an Olympic medal, but the therapy they have received has greatly improved their lives.
The Able the Disabled Foundation was founded at Horseshoe Point in 2005. One of its members, Sandra Cooper, a qualified equine assisted therapist and formerly of the Riding for the Disabled Association in Malaysia, is the driving force behind the therapy sessions for children with special needs.
Sandra Cooper with one of her charges.
For a child who spends his or her life sitting in a wheelchair, approaching a large horse for the first time is a daunting experience. Climbing on to one is terrifying. But the support the children receive from Sandra, the volunteers and the local Thai grooms is invaluable in calming down a stressed child.
The benefits for the children attending these sessions are numerous. The children who regularly attend have shown improvements in their balance and posture.
Their confidence grows as they become more used to their new environment, and they have overcome their phobias towards heights and animals.
The organised activities whilst they are on the horse means they are multi-tasking; keeping their balance whilst using their motor skills, listening to commands, following orders and achieving goals gives the children a sense of accomplishment.
Volunteers, Thai and foreign, are needed. You do not have to have experience with children with special needs or horses. You do not need to be a qualified equine assisted therapist, just an enthusiasm to want to help others and to ensure they are safe. Sandra will instruct the volunteers in everything they need to know.
With help from the volunteers the youngsters are using their motor skills more efficiently.
Making sure the riding hat is secure.