In Mexico City, a new type of therapy for special needs children is being employed in one of the capital’s neighborhoods – horse therapy.
Equitherapy – to give it its scientific name – employs horses to physically and mentally rehabilitate children with a range of disabilities, from autism, Down syndrome and development issues.
“Horses are large animals, and when a child sees he or she can control them, it helps enormously, and that has a knock-on effect with their motivation,” says Areli Mendez, one of the Equitherapy specialists at the center in Ecatepec, in northern Mexico City.
“It also helps with social skills, because the horse is one of the most loyal animals that we know of.”
The four horses working at the center are all retired police mounts, selected specifically for their calmness of character – essential when it comes to the therapy sessions.
“We choose them on the basis of their personality,” the therapy center’s manager Salvador Ramirez told CGTN. “Only the noblest and calm horses can be used in the function of equitherapy.”
One of the patients is Kathy Lopez, a severely autistic girl who has been attending for the past two months.
She has trouble speaking and controlling her movements, but for once a week, all those problems fade away, as she spends her time with the horses.
“She’s calmer and more tolerant since she started coming,” says her mother Ana Bertha, “even though it hasn’t been very long.”
Kathy’s sessions consist of riding around the small paddock on Abuelo, the therapists’ favorite horse of the four while practicing arms and legs movements with her trainer.
“I’ve spoken to other parents whose kids in a similar situation have been coming for two years, and they say the difference is amazing,” she told CGTN. “I’m holding out hope that it can be the same for Kathy.”
A Mexico City child psychiatrist, Dr. Yedid Maldonado says she sees great benefit in the therapy sessions, as long as they are not seen as a cure-all solution.
“The personality of the horse can be a great help when it comes to emotional support, sensorial engagement and social skills,” she told CGTN.
“But while this type of therapy can certainly be helpful, but it shouldn’t be seen as the only treatment, and should be used in conjunction with other interventions.”
The center now serves more than 100 patients, with many of its four-legged therapists leaving lasting, even transformational impressions on those they serve.