People may have been riding horses as far back as 4500 B.C., but this age-old pastime continues to be a therapeutic activity even in modern times.
In the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens, New York, GallopNYC offers veterans and disabled folks a fun way to relax and improve muscle tone, coordination, balance, and confidence. For them, riding lessons are a form of therapy, and it’s incredibly effective.
James Wilson is the executive director at GallopNYC. He originally hails from Texas and is a self-described “horse person,” so when he moved to New York, he missed being around these majestic animals. Since starting at GallopNYC, he has seen firsthand how beneficial riding can be for everyone, especially for those who live with PTSD and other disabilities.
“The horse sees the world in the way somebody with PTS (post-traumatic stress) might see the world, in a really guarded, sort of anxious way,” he explained. “So, somebody with PTS and a horse can sort of partner together and see the world in the same way and kind of take care of each other. Time with a horse for a veteran, for example, or somebody who suffered trauma — that time with a horse can be very therapeutic.”
James says riding horses helps people with disabilities gain strength and stamina, even if they use a wheelchair. He recalls an 18-year-old who was so weak that his mother had to help him bathe, but after he started riding, he gained so much core strength that he can now bathe independently.
“The motion, the movement of the horse will loosen up muscles that might be really tight,” he said. “And the movement helps stimulate other body parts, other muscles that you might not use.”
Riders like 16-year-old Olivia Diver report other, non-physical benefits as well.
“They become your friend, like you can talk to them, you can pet them, you can hug them,” she said. “It’s like, they’re not just an animal you ride, they’re like your companion, your buddy.”
Olivia says being around horses has helped her feel happier, calmer, and more confident in herself. She feels more inclined to try new things now that she has come out of her shell.
There’s no limit to what equine therapy can unlock for people. James says he’s been privileged to hear the “first words” of several riders who are nonspeaking, often because they want to ride a little bit faster! The most common words he hears? “Trot on!”
It’s hard to believe there are horse barns in the middle of New York City, but we’re so glad this oasis exists for those who need it! What an amazing way to turn city folks into horse people.
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