Therapeutic Riding Horse Health

Like any equine athlete, therapy horses require specialized training, care, and management.
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Therapeutic Riding Horse Health
For the patients and the therapists, these horses’ roles—and their health and welfare—are priceless. By properly selecting, training, and managing these horses, along with providing optimal preventive care, we can help ensure their good health is preserved. | Photo: Courtesy Christa Lesté-Lasserre

Like most Parisians, Tina and Elliot wake up every morning in the bustling city and get ready for work. They don’t drink coffee and take showers, but they do eat their grain and have their black coats groomed to a shine. They leave their stables, cross the paddock, and arrive for duty promptly at 8:30 a.m. This hard-working, sturdy duo—Tina, an Icelandic horse, and Elliot, a Merens draft type—are therapy horses. Right in south central Paris, France, they partner with the mentally and physically challenged patients of the neighboring institution, Notre Dame de Joye. They also receive visiting patients from psychologists and social workers and groups from juvenile detention centers.

Tina and Elliot’s job is no light matter. The physical and mental demands on these horses are many. But researchers have shown that equine therapy (what they call “hippotherapy”) benefits human patients dealing with all kinds of challenges. For the patients and the therapists, these horses’ roles—and their health and welfare—are priceless. By properly selecting, training, and managing these horses, along with providing optimal preventive care, we can help ensure their good health is preserved.

A Work Horse Like Any Other

First and foremost, know that these horses are true work horses. Richard B. Markell, DVM, volunteer treating veterinarian for the J.F. Shea Therapeutic Riding Center and its 35 therapy equids in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., says animals need to be physically fit to fill the role of therapeutic riding horse

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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