Lisa G Kahle
Therapy Horses for
The use of animals to
provide service and therapy to enhance people's health and lives and
to provide greater independence has been practiced throughout
recorded history. Today, many different types of
animals -- monkeys, birds, pigs, dogs, and horses, to name a few --
provide therapeutic benefits to humans with physical and mental
illnesses as well as providing assistance to people with
disabilities. For deaf people of all ages, animals can provide
love, protection, and companionship. While the most commonly recognized
therapy and/or service animals are dogs, the use of horses as
therapy animals for people who are Deaf is becoming increasingly
popular. The emphasis here on the use of horses for
therapy rather than
is important since the research suggests that horses are not
well-suited as service animals. In fact, the Guide Horse Foundation
(2005), states the following:
1. The Guide Horse Foundation is against the use of riding-size horses indoors because of the risk of injury to the horses, the
... handler and the general public. While our research has
indicated that Miniature horses make suitable guide animals, large
guide animals of any species can create a hazard for the public when
used in an inappropriate setting for an animal of that size.
2. Miniature horses are not well suited for assisting
[people who are
deaf]. Horses do not possess the "watch dog" instinct which is
important for a hearing assistance animal.
Horses are known
to possess a particular ability to break through the wall of isolation and frustration which can be
frequently present in the lives of people who are deaf. According to the Professional
Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), an international
organization dedicated to serve as a resource and advocate for
equine-assisted activities and therapies, "People
who are deaf or hard of hearing may experience improved self-esteem
and a sense of independence and empowerment by becoming an
independent equestrian. People with hearing impairments will develop
unique ways to communicate with their instructor and equine partner
while learning riding or driving." (2012)
Britton (1991) identified additional benefits of horse therapy to
balance and coordination;
Communication with a horse, which responds to actions, is often
easier than communicating with another person, who responds to
words. For example, when a rider pulls on the right rein, the horse
turns to the right. If they pull both reins, the horse stops. If
they don't do anything at all, the horse usually will not do
deaf person will need to be taught how to
interpret the language of the horse, the horse can still compensate
for sensory deficits of the rider. For example, if a horse hears
something, like a loud noise, dog barking, or people laughing, they
are able to alert the rider by responding with different body
signals; Such as, raising of the head, tensing of the body, turning
towards of the sound. As a deaf rider becomes
more astute at recognizing these types of signals, it will contribute to
developing an increased sensory awareness.
There are also unique
challenges to teaching the deaf to ride. Robin
Hulsey writes, "Since effective communication is the key in teaching
riding to anyone, regardless of disability, it is especially
important in the case of a deaf child". (1979). The author offers
person can't see the instructor, they can't "hear" the instructor. An
instructor will need to place themselves in the arena such that the
person can see them as they ride. Anything that can be done to
promote more effective communication with deaf students will make
learning to ride easier and more enjoyable.
persons may have a diminished sense of rhythm, teaching
them concepts, such as posting to a trot, should be taught at a walk
before moving to the next level.
Demonstration is one of the most effective techniques to introduce
and reiterate riding concepts. It's important for the instructor to
establish new techniques by direct communication with the deaf rider before they then try it on their own.
I had the privilege of meeting and
observing a session with a local individual who provides horse therapy
to the disabled. Deb Amidon, owner of EdgeCort farms has been
providing therapeutic services with horses since 1996. The service
is offered to several different organizations in the Cortland
County, New York area. There are two thirty-minute sessions
conducted a day, twice a week. The students range widely
including those who are
severely autistic, mentally disabled, blind, hard of hearing,
and deaf. Several of her students have gone to the Special Olympics
with horses from her stable.
In speaking with Ms.
Amidon about her experiences with deaf persons she reiterated
positively all of the
areas identified by Vanessa Britton above.
Students who are deaf achieve a sense of
well-being, independence, and freedom through interacting with her
horses. She also agreed that as an instructor teaching a deaf student to ride, it's
important that they see you and that you develop a language you both
understand. One of the things she strives to do with all her
students is to have them "be as independent as they can be." (Amidon,
A riding instructor does
not need to be someone well-versed in American Sign Language, but
they should be well-versed in the knowledge and techniques of
teaching riding. It will be important for the instructor to
establish a means of communication with a deaf
or hard of hearing person, learning the basics of sign language and
additional signs unique to riding instruction. When an instructor
is able to develop a connection between the student and the therapy
horse, the benefits of teaching the deaf to
ride far outweigh the challenges.
Adams, K. & Rice, S.
(2011, Sept. 19). A Brief Information Resource on Assistance
Animals for the Disabled. Animal Welfare Information Center,
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved June 27, 2012: http://www.nal.usda.gov/awic/companimals/assist.htm
Amidon, D. (2012).
EdgeCort Horse Farm. Route 11, Cortland, NY 13045. Interview
conducted July 11, 2012
Britton, V. (1991). Riding for the Disabled. London: B.T.
Hulsey, R. (1979). Horseback Riding for the Hearing Impaired.
Chesterfield, Missouri: Riding High, Inc.
Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH)
International. (2012). Benefits-Deafness. Resources, Industry
Links, Equine Welfare. Retrieved July 5, 2012:
The Guide Horse Foundation. (2005). Main web page and
Frequently asked Miniature Horse Questions. Retrieved July 1,
U.S. Department of Justice. (2008, Jan. 14). Commonly Asked
Questions about Service Animals in Places of Business.
Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. Retrieved July 4,
Websites of additional
articles on Therapy horses & Service Animals:
Bragg, R. (nd). Animals that Help Deaf People. Retrieved July
1, 2012: http://www.ehow.com/list_6851997_animals-deaf-people.html
National Technical Institute for the Deaf. (nd). Success
Stories: Dacia Anastasia Hirsch. Rochester Institute of
Technology. Rochester, NY 14623. Retrieved June 28, 2012:
Dogs for the Deaf, Inc. An organization dedicated to rescuing and
professional dogs to assist with hearing loss, autism,
panic/anxiety, and other challenges. http://www.dogsforthedeaf.org/
Interview conducted with Ms. Deb Amidon
Owner of Edge-Cort Horse
How long have you been providing horse therapy to the
Overall what has been your experience doing this type of
Have you ever had a deaf or hearing impaired person?
If yes, what are the unique challenges of these individuals?
What has been the positive to teaching these individuals
Can I meet them?
Anything else you would like to share?
Notes: Observed 4 different riders, some who had to be assisted, one
who was able to ride by himself and understood direction and could
guide the horse independently.
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