Monday 1 June, 2020

Empowering the differently-abled through equine therapy

ENT participant, Christiano (11 years old), diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, building a connection with the equine, Apollo.

ENT participant, Christiano (11 years old), diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, building a connection with the equine, Apollo.

Perched atop a hill in Buccoo village, the Magical Healing with Horses Park is a source of comfort and confidence for an often overlooked community in Trinidad & Tobago. Home to 11 horses and 2 ponies, the three-acre park opens its gates six days a week to deliver its unique brand of Equine Nature Therapy (ENT) to differently-abled children and adults in Tobago, free of charge.

Designed to create “a space where they feel embraced and needed” ENT helps participants connect and bond by promoting creativity and self-expression, while also practicing patience and calmness.

According to its Founder, Veronika Danzer-La Fortune, the approach at Healing with Horses “differs from most traditional equine therapy as we encourage bonding, communication, trust, and self-empowerment for the participants, along with the muscle strengthening, balance, and other physical improvements developed during the actual riding.”

Danzer-La Fortune and her husband, Lennon La Fortune, run Healing with Horses in conjunction with their business, Being with Horses, which offers trail swim tours through Buccoo Village and Buccoo Bay. However, while they enjoy contributing to Tobago’s tourism product, it is clear that their passion and life-purpose lie in the work they do through the Foundation.

Healing with Horses’ therapy focuses particularly on individuals diagnosed with autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, visual, hearing or speech impairment, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), weak motor skills and Asperger’s. Thus far they have hosted over 150 sponsored participants.

Long-time ENT participant, Keegan (14 years old) diagnosed with Asperger’s and ADHD, exercising the techniques of guidance and trust, after the Swim Trail with Aberdeen.

A holistic approach is taken to help each participant develop their motor skills along with critical life skills such as social tools, leadership and responsibility. Activities include communing, grooming, feeding and riding the equines; as well as music and rhythm therapy, yoga and meditation, art therapy, and creative writing.

Through these interactions, students practice responsibility for themselves, each other, and the animals in their care. They develop rhythm, coordination and balance; build up their stamina and endurance, and learn to focus on self-control and stress management as equines are very sensitive animals that will only be ready to connect once the student is centered.

From inception to the present day, Healing with Horses has received countless testimonials and progress reports from parents and guardians who have observed positive developments in their charges. 

“The three-dimensional transmission of movement of the horse has a positive effect on the clients of ENT therapy,” Danzer-La Fortune says. “Dealing with the horse promotes patience and fine motor skills. Participants were able to speak up, to gain self-confidence, learned to be balanced, learned to walk and to sit upright.”

Sessions are guided by fulltime park instructors, as well as volunteers - some of whom travel from as far as Europe to spend several months working at the Park.

Healing with Horses is supported by a strong network of contributors, including Ja Moi and Reynel Clarke of Riddim Nation; yoga instructor, Lindsay Hall,; creative writing instructor and Founder of Bright Antilles, Dr. Danielle Elliott Ph.D; Love and Relationship Coach, Leah Almeida; and Counselor and Life Coach, Allison Bonilla.

The foundation also receives assistance from several corporate entities including the JB Fernandez Trust, United Way T&T, Guardian Life and Eastern Credit Union.

With a steady stream of participants visiting the park each week to benefit from ENT, Healing with Horses is without a doubt making a positive mark on the lives of the differently-abled. Persons interested in volunteering with this organisation can email support@healing-with-horses.org for more details. Financial contributions can be submitted via cheque or direct deposit to the Healing with Horses Foundation.

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