Therapeutic Riding in Athens
In the center of Athens, very near my house, there is a hidden paradise, a small forest in which people with physical disabilities and mental problems can come into contact with horses at a riding club that practices Therapeutic Riding in Athens. The club is a member of the Greek Society of Therapeutic Riding, which is a non-profit organization that provides horse therapy services to both children and adults for free, with the help of a large number of volunteers.
Therapeutic riding is an alternative therapeutic approach. It is actually a form of therapy in which a horse is used for therapy, without of course replacing the classic medical methods of therapy. I would say that it acts more like a supplement to traditional medical therapy and it’s very effective from what I have seen and horse trainers and doctors have told me.
Many people with disabilities visit the riding club on a daily basis, in order to have riding lessons. The trainers there follow riding therapy sessions for people with physical, emotional or mental problems and make them feel much better. These riding sessions last about 30 minutes for each rider, which is actually quite enough time for a horse ride. The trainers there also train athletes for the national Greek team of the Paralympic Games that are held together with Olympic Games every 4 years.
Although I’ve never ridden a horse in my life, I often visit this particular place because of it natural beauty and tranquility. The trees and beautiful natural environment also help healthy people and people with health issues relax and spend some quality time very near the center of our capital city. Such places are very scarce to find nowadays in a huge city like Athens, with more than 5 million residents.
This beautiful natural environment is not just like the sterile room of a clinic. This fact particularly helps young children who have the opportunity to jump on the horse and keep fit as they play and make their therapy. I once asked a trainer about their work and she told me that people with physical disabilities try to keep their balance and feel like walking when they ride a horse, which is a completely unfamiliar feeling for them. She told me that the movement of a horse is three-dimensional, very close to the human movement.
In addition, the trainer informed me that these people also exercise muscles with horse riding that they cannot exercise normally because of their disability. The horse actually becomes an extension of the body of the rider and people who cannot normally walk and are forced to use wheelchairs, are actually given a great opportunity to see the world from top to bottom and not vice versa, from bottom to top, like when they sit on their wheelchair. This greatly influences their psychology.
I believe that these people do a great job that really helps a lot hundreds of disabled people around Athens. Unfortunately, the income of the riding club is mainly from donations of volunteers and a Christmas bazaar they organize once a year. Expenses are difficult to be covered so there’s a really possible danger that the riding club soon won’t be able to cover its costs and continue be operate.
Admission is free and children have the opportunity to ride horses that is such a rare thing to find in Athens. The club operates mainly based on the voluntary work of its members, and all of them feel lucky, because there are still people who support them and look after the children together with the trainers, so they don’t fall off the horses and get hurt. They also take care of the animals and keep company to people and children waiting their turn to ride a horse. Furthermore, there is also cooperation of the riding club with doctors and other practitioners like physiotherapists.
Various studies have shown that horse therapy helps individuals with physical, mental and psychological difficulties to maintain a better quality of life. It also helps them cope more easily with everyday basic activities. Children, teens and adults have the opportunity to find new ways to develop their social skills through group activities, using horses as a means of expression and communication.