If you haven’t already noticed, we have a few new visitors at the barn! There are currently three trial horses at our Cicero location- Cinnamon, Domino and Captain. While we are hopeful each of them will excel and be happy with their new jobs, we also know this job isn’t for every horse.
Our horses make being a therapeutic riding horse look easy, but in reality, therapeutic riding is a hard job that not every horse is cut out for. The mental focus and discipline it takes to be a reliable therapeutic riding horse can be overwhelming to a lot of horses. Because of this, there is a process we go through to choose new horses to join our program.
In this two part blog series, we’ll cover the horse selection process, as well as the trial period and desensitization.
All horse donations and horse leases go through Agape’s program director, Linda Hazzard. With calls coming in frequently for potential new horses, Linda has to be the gatekeeper. She decides which horses we look at and which horses don’t fit our current needs.
“We first have to identify what we need within our existing herd,” Linda says. “Do we need a pony? Do we need a draft horse? We start by evaluating what horses we have and what we need to give us a starting point for what we’re looking for.”
We often have people ask what kind of horses we’re looking for. Trial horses will ideally fit most, if not all, of the following characteristics:
- Horses who respect the personal space of people. Linda mentions if that hasn’t already been taught, it is something you can’t reteach easily.
- Horses who enjoy having people around them. Because our riders have at least one and as many as three volunteers with them at all times, our therapy horses must have social personalities and enjoy the company of humans.
- Horses who don’t have a history of chronic lameness.
- Horses who are comfortable being “barefoot.” We prefer our horses not need shoes because of safety with our students and with other horses in the herd.
- Horses who have a record of health care and are up to date on all vaccinations.
In addition to all of these qualities, we certainly have to consider our riders and what kinds of horses would work well with them. Riders build relationships and bonds with their horses, too, so we want to make sure we are providing reliable horses to facilitate their learning and personal growth.
When we find a good candidate, we schedule a visit to go see the horse. While there, our staff look for specific personality and training qualities. We lunge the horse to evaluate their movement, and sometimes ride the horse. We do crazy things to gauge the horse’s reactions, like throwing objects around them or making loud noises.
The horses we choose for trial don’t have to be entirely “bomb-proof”, but they do have to have good basic ground manners and must be capable of standing quietly.
Because of the tough nature of the job, the trial horses at Agape go through a trial period which lasts 30-60 days. Next week, we’ll talk about the trial period and what it takes to make the cut!
What do you think are some factors that make being a therapeutic riding horse so tough?