Horses are lovely animals that have unique healing powers, don’t you think? Equine therapy is well known and these activities with horses can improve physical, emotional and social wellbeing. BY just simply being around horses then can help to reduce stress and anxiety levels.
In these fun activities, kids learn how to manoeuver horses with the help and encouragement from experienced teachers. Actually, every time kids perform well, they will get a sense of accomplishment that automatically improves their wellbeing during the practice and after it.
Although the level of improvement always depends on each disability, in general equine therapy reduces anxiety and stress, which will increase a child’s self-esteem, self-acceptance and social skills. In addition, these children will be able to control their impulses more easily and gain communication and problem-solving skills.
At Quinta da Saudade, an equestrian centre in the Algarve, whose activity is mainly focused on promoting riding tours, I met Laurindo Fernandes, who also teaches kids with disabilities and dementia.
Laurindo is passionate about horses and has always lived surrounded by these beautiful animals. As a child “sometimes I used to ride horses to school. I've always loved horses”, said the riding teacher.
That's why Laurindo has always worked with these animals and at a certain stage he decided to start teaching children and helping them to overcome their fears. Without any degree or qualifications, his experience and innate talent are Laurindo’s main tools.
With regard to fear, which is normal for those who have never experienced horses, Laurindo told me that after a while people begin to love riding. “These horses give you confidence,” he said modestly. However, it is Laurindo with his calm and harmony that helps these people to get involved with animals, overcoming their fears.
“I’ve always been patient”, he admitted. “I always loved to study horses, adults and children. Besides, I have a lot of patience and, to do what I do, both with horses and children, I need to understand them, give them time and find a proper way to teach them”.
Primarily, “I teach them to clean the horses slowly, to be careful and to put their feet on the horses. After a while, they start to learn. It's so good to see these little kids who didn't know anything before be able to learn how to ride a horse”.
The learning pace is not the same for everyone, it will depend from child to child, but in general, at least ten lessons are needed once a week to enable a child to be more comfortable with the horses and able to ride.
Furthermore, between the age of ten and twelve is the best age for children to start developing these faculties. However, Laurindo warned that unfortunately not all children are able to learn. "I do my best, but when the disabilities are too severe, it's complicated."
Through his eyes, we can see how proud he is of the progress these children have made in Laurindo’s classes. “I like to see the kid’s development - that makes me very happy. It's a joy, it's like seeing a horse that doesn't know anything and after a while it gains confidence”.
In fact, these children with special needs are capable of this and much more, they can do extraordinary things. This is said by Laurindo, who confesses that these children have an often great intelligence for tasks that are beyond the reach of most common people, "sometimes we have no idea what they are capable of, they can memorise many numbers, and do things we can’t even think of".