I was recently asked what we look for in a therapy horse. Great question! There are some specifics we look for depending on our current needs at the barn at any given time. We might need a smaller horse for our maximum support riders. (Obviously it is not safe, if even possible, to support a rider atop a 16+-hand horse.) Or we might need a wide-bodied horse for clients with balance challenges. We always try to maintain a balanced herd, so if a large horse is retiring from the program, we will look for another large horse, and so forth.
There are certain characteristics and tendencies that all of our horses have – not surprising, given the nature of our work. First and foremost, our horses have to enjoy being with a variety of people. In a typical week (pre-COVID) we have hundreds of people through our barn – clients, volunteers, staff, grooms, etc. The one-person horse will not be happy at our barn. For that matter, our horses must also get along well with other horses so that group classes stay harmonious and safe. Closely related, our horses must be able to handle change. Our riders’ abilities and skill levels range significantly, so our horses must tolerate variety. This next one is also not a surprise- our horses must have a low flight risk. That’s not to say none of our horses have ever spooked, but their response is at the low end of the range a horse might exhibit. All horses coming into the Giant Steps program must be sound at the walk, trot and canter and be in good health. And finally, as a non-profit organization heavily dependent upon volunteer staffing, our horses must also be easy keepers.
We are incredibly fortunate to have attracted such amazing horses to our program. They bring a wide variety of experiences to our riders and our program. Some are retired show horses in jumping, dressage, or western disciplines. Others were lesson horses or personal trail horses. One even served in the US Park Police. We don’t look for specific backgrounds or breeds; we look for a horse who will enjoy being a therapy horse. They give it their all, so we want to make sure it is a good fit.
Other questions about our program or our herd? Send them my way! You can email me here: Julie Larson, Program Director