Horses were the primary means of transportation and assisted in hard labor such as plowing fields from the days of Moses until the twentieth century. Then, with the advent of machinery, they ceased to have a function outside of entertainment- or have they? We’ve all watched the old western movies where cowboys would ride into town on horseback and, even if one has never ridden a horse, nostalgia, or perhaps more accurately envy, is the natural reaction to such scenes. Horses still can perform a useful function for society though. They are arguably the best animals to teach Autistic children body language.
Horses, like all animals, communicate amongst themselves. The difference is that the body language of horses is more obvious and can be explained by a trained professional. I spoke with my neighbor, Letha, who in a previous portion of her life worked with and owned horses. Five minutes of conversation with Letha will confirm that she is a ‘country girl’ and she’ll be the first person to describe herself in this way. Letha’s first job was assisting with pony shows and she owned an Arabian horse before she moved into my building. She has some hilarious stories about that horse- for example, once the horse figured out how to sneak out of its stall and she had to coral it back in. Letha confirmed that horses were excellent therapy animals; but with the caveat that safety was a major concern. A horse is a large animal and must be treated with respect.
“Horses are like dogs,” stated Letha, “If they connect with you, then you have it going on.” She recommends that racing horses and ‘dancing’ horses be avoided for therapeutic purposes though. “I like working with those breeds because they’re challenging, but they’re also highly aggressive and you have to know what you’re doing.” stated Letha. Ponies are mean as well. Letha then recommended the Quarter-horse as the best breed and stated that older horses are ideal for children, because they spook less easily than younger horses. All the better if the horse has previous experience with children. Both the horse and the individual interacting with the horse should be trained so that no one gets injured.
The therapy should be administered in stages. The individuals receiving the therapy should first be taught to recognize how horses communicate with each-other. After this, the therapy can then progress to the individual petting and forming a relationship with the horse, applying body language recognition skills to advance their relationship with the horse. The therapy should progress to the individual actually riding the horse. Finally, a sport involving horses ought to be taught. The last step is the goal because the individual receiving the therapy will have to maintain a relationship not only with his horse, but also other individuals receiving the therapy. But it won’t seem like work because sports are generally fun. This final step is central to the therapy because playing horse polo or another sport will cause the individual receiving the therapy to look forward to the big game. The goal wouldn’t be winning, as much as having fun and bonding.
The world fundamentally lost something when people began interacting less and less with horses. Horses are some of the most emotional animals out there and as such, form some of the best bonds with people. On another note, it would also be better for the environment and national security if people used cars on the interstate and rode horses in town, where possible. Less gas would be consumed, oil prices would drop and America’s enemies would be weaker (we can and should help our allies diversify their economies anyway- no nation’s economy should be dependent on one export).