Will this pony ever make a good therapy pony?
There's a Welsh/Arab pony that has been at the therapeutic barn I volunteer at for about seven months. He's twelve or thirteen years old and about 13hh, very smart. With an intermediate or experienced rider, he can do walk/trot/canter and lead changes and over the summer some of the horsey volunteers did some natural horsemanship groundwork with him.
About two months after he first arrived and passed through the initial sensitivity testing, we put one of our hippotherapy riders (a little girl) on him in a therapy saddle. He was good in the arena, so we decided to take a lap outside. He spooked at a big rock outside the arena and we had to take her off. A few more lessons, and he was fine for all of them. Then, one day a meeting was going on at the tables outside the arena as we were finishing up therapy. The members clapped, and he spooked and again, we had to take the rider off. A third time we took them around a track that surrounds a pasture where a flirty mare was being kept (we can't really blame him for acting up on this one).
So, clearly he was not ready to be a therapy horse at this point. He was put through a lot of groundwork during the summer and now he's being ridden by one of the instructors four or five times a week. The owner of the barn sort of wants to sell him, and has had a few people come and look at him. Our horsey volunteers, instructors, therapists, and interns all have mixed opinions on him.
He is behaving better but we haven't put another therapy kid on him. He's not a big fan of sidewalkers which is one of the reasons we think little things that normally don't bother him do when there's a kid on his back. We have put a tarp on his body with no rider or sidewalker and his fine, but he acts up when one of our volunteers crinkles an empty plastic bottle if she's on his back with or without sidewalkers. He also just barely tolerated three or four well-behaved kids (who didn't all come at him at once) painting him during camp.
We do have adaptive lessons, but most of our more experienced special needs riders would be too big for him. He was given to us with the idea that he would be short enough for sidewalkers to really be able to give kids that need extra help more support.
So what do you guys think? Is he worth investing more time into or is he probably not going to be a trustworthy therapy horse? Also, what can we do to get him ready for situations like the previously mentioned?
There have been times when the instructors have wanted to put him back into the program, but if he's too unpredictable, they'll never want to use him.
It has been a long time since his mishaps, but there's still that chance that he might freak out with two sidewalkers right next to him, a leader in his face and a little kid on his back.
(Personally, I don't think he'll work out. He picks things up fast - including bad habits - and walking around in monotonous circles in an arena seems like it would totally sour him and burn him out. He has all-around potential with the right rider and I don't think therapy is number one, what he'll be good at and number two what he wants to do).
I know for our therapy equestrian program, they are completely overrun with people who can't afford to keep their SAFE horses anymore and wanting to donate them. I don't know what the situation is with you guys.
Personally, I don't think this is a horse to really put the time into. He sounds like he is a wonderful horse for someone who is not without a disability or someone who might want to show him, but that doesn't make him safe for riders there for therapeutic reasons. At our barn, we share it with our local therapy program. We have many WONDERFUL horses, proven show horses, many with extremely advanced training, but not even 5% of the show horses there would be suitable for the program. My mare is ridden by my six year old cousin under supervision, but I would never volunteer her for the program because she is hard to ride and has a ton of power if she was to have a "day" where she was feeling her oats.
Summarizing that mess of text, you guys could find a horse more suitable and a home more suitable for that pony. He sounds like he has wonderful training and I wish you the best of luck.
To me it sounds like he could go either way with consistent work, but right now, I agree I wouldn't trust him in a therapy lesson. Taking a rider off three times is what sends a red flag to me- in the years I've been volunteering I've only heard of a rider being taking off twice, and on different horses. Sounds like he doesn't have the temperament for all the unexpected things that happen during a therapy lesson.
My only slight hesitation is that it sounds like he hasn't had consistent training in a therapy setting. Could you have volunteers simulate a therapy lesson on him in the same arena where a real therapy lesson is going on with another horse and rider? This might be a way to get him some therapy miles where the consequences are less serious. Based on your post, it sounds like he gets time with able bodied riders but the therapy lessons are sporadic and having an "incident" gets him out of therapy for awhile.
In the end, I think you have the right opinion about this. And I say this as the proud and happy owner of a "therapy horse dropout"- she had all the same problems you described, and just couldn't cut it in the therapy lesson environment. So, I bought her from the program, she's still boarded at the same barn and can handle all the daily routines- she just doesn't have to be ridden in therapy lessons anymore (she HATES sidewalkers too!!).
I'd pass. I'd rather be feeding a helpful mouth. Some horses just won't ever make good therapy horse, and that's ok! I'd say about 1 in 5 horses make the cut. Giving him up might be best for him, he can go to a home where he will be useful and have a job he enjoys. For this horse I'd watch him like a hawk for signs of burn out. He will only tolerate them for so long before he starts souring out. It will also be good for your program, you don't want that liability! All it takes is one kid to fall of and one parent to say "oh yeah, my kid was yanked off that pony last week". Boom. Law suit.
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