Listening. Balancing. Moving. Interacting. It’s incredible what people with autism achieve when they’re paired with a horse.
At the Giant Steps Equine Therapy Programme, held every Thursday at the Violet Banks Indoor Arena at Westbury, up to five special horses carry their precious riders into a world that they love.
They’re walking, trotting and enjoying mounted games - one student is even cantering on lead.
Not only is it excellent exercise for gross and fine motor skills, but the programme’s operators say that, just as importantly, it’s about interaction with the animals and that the focus isn’t so much on teaching how to ride, but simply letting them ride.
Giant Steps therapeutic aide Danielle Whatley said that the students and clients become calm, relaxed and at one with their horse during their hour-long riding session.
“They are all very balanced and so proud of their achievements - most really love to trot!” she said.
“Horse therapy is proven worldwide to be very beneficial to children with disabilities and our kids absolutely love coming each week.”
Giant Steps, based at Deloraine, has been offering the equestrian programme for the past 10 years as one of the specialist services for those living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
It was started by local Phyllis Pyke who is still heavily involved and relies on a handful of volunteers, the kind donation of the all-weather facility and also the amazing temperament of the horses themselves.
Brown thoroughbred Bella, bay clydesdale cross Spider and 28-year-old pony Jasper, have all proven time after time that they can cope with anything.
On December 15 parents will watch their children ride at Giant Steps’ first Challenge Day, where the riders will receive rosettes for their achievements.