Horseback riding therapy in Mexico for children with disabilities

Latin America

The therapeutic benefits of riding horses were first noted in ancient Greek writings. But in recent decades it has been used to help those with disabilities.

CGTN’s Alasdair Baverstock visited a program in Mexico that is focused on aiding children.

Kathy Lopez, from Mexico City, is severely autistic. She isn’t accepted at state primary schools, has difficulty talking and controlling her movements. But once a week, for the past two months, those problems fade into the background, when she attended her regular therapy sessions.

Her therapists were retired police horses. Kathy’s mother said the changes are noticeable, and she had high hopes for the future.

“Even though it hasn’t been long, she’s more tolerant and calm,” Ana Bertha Lopez said. “I’ve spoken to other mothers who have been bringing their children for around two years, and they say the changes are enormous. And that gives me great hope that she can improve too.”

A horse therapy center is located in Ecatepec, one of the most violent neighborhoods of Mexico City. It’s there where four former police horses spent their retirement helping special needs children develop their coordination and social skills.

It’s run by Salvador Ramirez, a member of the local police. “The horses have spent long careers in the police force and we choose them on the basis of their personality, “ Ramirez explained. “Only the most noble and calm of horses can be used in the function of equitherapy.”

Aleli Mendez is a child psychologist at the center and said that, in addition to the physical training, equitherapy provided mental benefits as well. “When it comes to autism, the horse helps to improve confidence. Horses are large animals, and when a child sees it can control them that helps enormously, and that has a knock-on effect with their motivation,” Mendez said. “It also helps with social skills, because the horse is one of the most loyal animals that we know of.”

Dr. Yedid Maldonado is a child psychiatrist and agreed that equine therapy can be effective if used in conjunction with more traditional interventions. “The personality of the horse can be a great help when it comes to emotional support, sensorial engagement and social skills,” the doctor said. “This type of therapy can certainly be helpful, but it shouldn’t be seen as a cure-all solution.”

The center served more than 100 patients with many of its four-legged therapists leaving lasting, even transformational impressions on those they served.