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).