The Earth Centre in Roodepoort provides horse therapy to about 140 children with disabilities, most of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The organisation also teams up with underprivileged special schools like Adelaide Tambo School in Soweto to provide lessons for their students.
The centre accommodates children with cerebral palsy (CP), spina bifida, paralysis, autism, Down’s syndrome, ADD and ADHD, among other disabilities. Depending on the disability and its severity, horse therapy offers these students many benefits. Nicole Ras, marketing manager for The Earth Centre, explains some of the benefits for children with CP, in particular: “The children use their pelvis to balance; their legs relax from the warmth of the horse and they exercise their core. Improvements can usually be seen within 12 weeks.”
In addition, horse riding provides the children with unique skills and self-confidence.
“The psychological benefits include learning a new skill, more confidence and a better self-image,” Ras says. “It also filters into the classroom and gives the children better focus, better interaction, better posture at their desks and better coordination, which improves writing.”
The safety of the children is a top priority, and the centre often has multiple volunteers assisting each child. For children with mobility impairments, one volunteer would lead the horse and one or more would assist the child to remain seated upright on the horse. Sessions are about 30 minutes each.
The centre has a total of 16 horses and two mini-donkeys. The donkeys are mostly used in the Pat n Chat programme, which allows children who are unable to ride the opportunity to stroke and interact with the animals.
The horses are well cared for. “We try and keep their lifestyle as similar as possible to what they would experience in nature,” Ras says. The horses live outside in a herd, and graze or feed on all-natural products, which are compiled to resemble what they would eat if they were in the wild. For further information about The Earth Centre, visit its website
at www.earthcentre.org.za or read more at