Therapeutic horseback riding .jpg

Therapeutic horseback riding

BEVERLEY GIBBONS, owner of Pinetrees Riding Stables in Quinta do Lago, and Rosemary Owen, chairman of the Riding for the Disabled Association, have been helping children and adults with physical, mental and emotional disabilities for many years through hippotherapy. Speaking to The Resident’s Louise Pimm, the two ladies revealed how their therapy sessions have helped transform lives.

The Resident: Pinetrees recently celebrated its 21st birthday. How long have you been offering hippotherapy to the disabled?

Beverley Gibbons: We must have started the sessions in the late 80s. I have completed various courses to teach riding to disabled people, and was Chef d’Equipe to the Portuguese Paralympic dressage team for four years. Through my experience, I realised just how important hippotherapy was in changing lives, and was thrilled when the Riding for the Disabled Association approached me to be the base for their Algarve branch.

T.R: What happens in a hippotherapy session?

B.G: The disabled person sits on a sheepskin blanket on the horse’s back, and is slowly led around the arena by one of our trained volunteers. A physiotherapist and another trained volunteer walk at their side.

The warmth from the horse’s body encourages the rider to relax, thereby reducing muscle spasms, and the undulations of the horse’s back while it walks, stimulates the muscles and encourages better posture, controlled movement, a feel good factor and enjoyment.

The benefits of hippotheraphy are endless. We have had children starting therapy as hunchbacks and, over the months, straightened out; and children who have had no control over their limbs have been able to gain control. It isn’t just the therapy that helps, when the children and adults come here; they meet friends and people who understand them and give them encouragement, help and love.

T.R: How do you select the horses that you use in hippotherapy?

B.G: Out of the 16 horses we have at Pinetrees, eight or nine are used for the therapy sessions. They must have a good, calm temperament, be the correct size (about 1.30m in height), and have a good walk.

Rosemary Owen: The association owns two of the horses, the others we hire from Pinetrees.

T.R: Is Riding for the Disabled a

registered charity? What funding

do you receive?

R.O: No, we are not a charity, but we have been trying for years to become one. In Portugal, the therapy we give is not recognised, and we cannot become a charity until it is. At the moment, we call ourselves a charitable association. We can only continue our work through donations, sponsorship and fundraising. We give free therapy to people from the Associação Portuguesa de Paralisia Cerebral (APPC), the centre for cerebral palsy in Faro, and the Associação Algarvia de Pais e Amigos de Crianças Diminuídas Mentais (AAPACDM), Faro’s centre for children with learning difficulties.

T.R: What difference has it made being Network’s Charity of the Year?

R.O: It means so much to us at the association. We couldn’t do anything without the money we receive. Some parents can’t afford to pay for their children to have hippotherapy, and it makes such a difference to their lives that we need to be able to afford to give them the therapy. We couldn’t do it without our many sponsors.

Watching a session of hippotherapy at Pinetrees, you can see the delight on the children’s faces when they are on the horses. The work that Beverley, Rosemary and their numerous volunteers do is priceless. If you would like to know more about Riding for the Disabled and hippotherapy, or would like to volunteer your services, e-mail Beverley on [email protected] or call Rosemary on 964 027 677.