Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Charity Matters

I know of two great charities in Spain, both completely different but in some ways the same as ANIMO. One is ASPRODALBA in Vera Almeria, which was started over twenty five years ago by Ignacio Martín Cuadrado and his wife. They had a big dream to help mentally challenged adults lead a useful and fulfilling life. With their own money and work they started brick by brick and now are one of the few success stories I know. They have a beautiful centre and many students are brought in by bus every day where they are offered classes in gardening, pottery, theatre and many more things. They even have a physiotherapist a few days a week. They get very little funding from the government and now the English community has seen the wonderful job they are doing and are raising lots of money to help with fund-raisers. ALL the money goes into the centre. I am so pleased that they succeed and are constantly advancing and offering more options to their students. Ignacio’s wife runs a centre for infants and small children to try and help them before it is too late.

Another centre that I deeply respect is called Sac Xiroi, in Barcelona. It has been running for some twenty years as a family-run operation. It is directed by Miguel and Trini Gallardo, who have to be the greatest people I have ever met. They take street kids and delinquents to a home and work with them giving meaning to their lives. They use AAT but in a different way to how ANIMO did. ANIMO was strictly physically oriented and Sac Xiroi is psychologically oriented and animals are also used as a reward for good behavior. They were the first in Spain to explore the inclusion of animals in their therapy. They travelled the world and attended seminars, at their own expense. They both worked two jobs just to put food on the table. Their success has been remarkable and now we hear that they have been made to shut down due to government cuts. They have helped everyone who came to them and are true humanitarians. They now stand to lose everything and I think it is criminal.
Here’s what they say:
‘Por otro lado, a los tres días de no tener niños, los caballos, las cabras y los tocinos se negaron a comer, ya que les faltaban las caricias y besos de los niños y los hemos tenido que regalar, para evitar que se murieran...’

Another charity that started with nothing but good will, I will mention in brief at the moment and go into further detail at a later time, is Mensajeros de la Paz, started and run by Padre Angel, Whom I found very similar to Mother Teresa. He started taking in street kids and now has a world wide operation helping everyone from the elderly to young girls giving them training and jobs to get them out of drugs, neglect, abuse and prostitution. His charity is enormous and covers the globe, as does he. He never stops and is always on the go checking that his work is being carried out.

HACHICO is a centre to train dogs for the physically disabled and is run in Belgium by a fantastic girl named Caroline. Not only is she fantastic at her job, she came to help ANIMO get started on its dog program and came to give demonstrations in Spain with two of her dogs. She even did a demonstration on the Aeroplane to the delight of the passengers and crew. She had a very hard beginning but is now doing very well and has a very good reputation - I owe her a debt of gratitude for all the help she gave me and the great work she is doing.

I would also like to thank Francisco Limonche from Telefonica in Spain. It was under strange circumstances that we met, in a trade fair, but he never gave up trying to help me and give me contacts in Spain. I would like to thank him for all he did for me and what he is doing around the world to help the disabled.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


In some cases a helmet is worn but this is not required in back-riding. In Spain a helmet is not required for any riding, however all our students wore helmets unless there was a medical reason not to. For example a shunt that would be damaged by the helmet or pressure on part of the brain so that the Doctor advised not to use one. The boy in this picture has no control of his head and upper torso so the back-rider maintains the proper position and helps him follow the instructions of the physiotherapist gaining maximum benefit from his sessions.

This student was with us for about five years. In this time, his muscle-tone improved greatly as did the working of his digestive system, allowing him to take fewer drugs. His sheer joy while on the horse was well worth it, plus usually after class, we took him on a short ride in the country. At the end of each session, we turned him on his stomach over the horse and walked around for about three minutes to help remove the fluid from his lungs. Depending on the student’s abilities, the lessons can begin with just five minutes and increase as the student develops more stamina and flexibility. Most lessons will last about 45 minutes.

Running a Charity

Charities in Spain, as probably anywhere else, run from completely corrupt to very dedicated and devoted to their cause. When you donate money make sure you know where it is going, and how much of it actually gets to the cause. Some charities are all volunteer and some have a few paid workers. Animal assisted therapy can be run either way. Some people charge the same as a riding lesson, while others don’t charge any thing.


ANIMO IS A NATIONAL NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION THAT IS DEDICATED TO PRESENTING ALL TYPES OF ANIMAL ASSISTED THERAPY TO THE DISABLED. ANIMO started almost twenty years ago as an idea I had having worked in this field since I was five years old in Maryland USA, teaching riding and horse-care to the mentally disabled. It was not a new thing at that time, but was nowhere as developed as it is now. ANIMO started here in Mojácar, Spain in 1988. ANIMO and its farm school were also available to the local school children at no charge. Everyone at ANIMO worked for free including the paediatrician and the physiotherapist. ANIMO was operated on my own property with my own animals and my own funding. The reward was in the improvement and happiness in the students. Since all the animals were bottle-fed and raised in my home, we could put many animals together, such as wild boar, pigs, sheep, donkeys etc.. We had a small pen where the animals could be turned loose so that groups of people such as the blind could touch them, smell them, feed them etc.. We had groups come from all over Spain, Germany, France and many others. Almost all of our students were young and very severely physically disabled. We followed the international standards even though they are not required in Spain. I had many people calling for information to start a project similar with no experience of any kind and no knowledge of different disabilities and the contradictions, benefits and dangers. In the geographical area that ANIMO worked, most disabled were not even registered and had no therapy of any kind, in fact, most were just left in the home never to go out. They were (and are) usually cared for by a family member such as the grandmother or aunt. It was very courageous of our students’ parents to try this unheard of method that we were offering. ANIMO consisted of about forty volunteers and as many students. I was lucky that many of my volunteers came from England and had worked with RDA Riding for the Disabled, which has over 700 centres in the UK. One main problem I found with using only volunteers is that it seems to serve a double purpose. Most were elderly, lonely or with problems of their own. I had a real need for young strong volunteers with a basic knowledge of either disabilities, or of animals or preferably both, but there were none. That is where my children and a few of their friends came in. I couldn’t have done it without them, because the horses needed to be trained and exercised we had nine, and we needed good leaders and side-walkers. Every month we had training sessions for the volunteers when they would take turns riding or side-walking and we would introduce any toys or objects that were going to be used in the sessions until it became second nature to the horse, it also let the volunteers get a feel of what the student was feeling and how it helped each specific problem.
I attended courses and seminars all over Europe and we hosted courses twice a year with prominent teachers from all countries. All but one were held at my home and had a technical section and a practical section. The University of Almeria hosted an international conference for us out of which we wrote a book, the only one in existence in Spanish. The book is called Introducción a Hipoterapia y Hípica Adaptada en Niños con Parálisis Cerebral. Unfortunately the book sold out in record time and there is still a big demand for it. I have not been able to get the University to print more copies. We have had a large demand from South America. As soon as I can find a way to get more copies I will post it on this site.

About five years ago, the practical sessions stopped due to lack of funding and adequate volunteers. With all my children off in university and 9 horses and four donkeys to prepare each day it became impossible. It also became too expensive. We still help provide information to legitimate groups that are trying to start up and some have been very successful. My daughter and I give speeches at conferences and information by e-mail or phone. We do not accept any donations, as at this time we have no animals or expenses.
ANIMO started about 20 years before Spain was ready for it, now AAT is becoming very popular and the authorities are starting to make a few regulations however there are still only a handful of centres that know really what they are doing in all aspects of AAT especially hippotherapy. Because the family unit is so strong in Spain the idea of volunteers was a novelty especially in more uneducated areas. The family unit sticks together and it is only now that the children are going away to university or work. So now is a much better time to get started. We still have most of our small animals, such as guinea pigs, rabbits and birds etc. I am now working on a few projects that I am very excited about and I will inform you as they progress. Even though I have never felt like a ‘second rate-citizen’ here and have been well accepted, I have found that it is much harder for a non-Spaniard to get funding. A few times I have turned in projects with great enthusiasm from the authorities, given land and grants only to find a little later that someone else took the land and grants and never even started the project, especially as they had no understanding of it.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Terminology and rules change from country to country. For example, the accepted name for the physically disabled may be ‘handicapped’, ‘invalid’, ‘disabled’ or now I think the correct term is ‘physically challenged’. Also in some countries you need to be certified or have a degree in order to work in these fields but in some countries none exists so anyone can work whether qualified or not. The information on this page is a general guide.

A man with cerebral palsy came from a very poor family who had no understanding of his disorder; as a result he grew in the form of the foetal position. Had he received any sort of therapy as a child he would be able to walk and lead a fairly normal life, doubly tragic, as he is very intelligent. He was with ANIMO for about 8 years during which time he made tremendous improvement. But the interesting thing about this case is that from time to time while riding a horse named Sorca, the leader noticed that the horse would put its ears back and stiffen its muscles - and seem generally uncomfortable. We had no idea what brought over the change, after a fairly long period of time we noticed that shortly after the horse’s reaction the man would go into spasms. In time the student learned to read the horse’s signals and was able to relax and in most cases stop the spasm.
A four year old that walked on tiptoes due to short tendons was due for an operation to cut the tendons. We decided to try a new approach. We had a very short but wide and strong pony. He would ride standing up with two side walkers providing extra support, bareback and barefooted, he would ‘walk’ on the pony’s back while at the walk. After only two sessions he was able to walk with his heals on the floor. It still took more work for him to be able to walk normally but it saved him an operation.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Therapeutic Riding

There are many categories that fall under the term ‘Therapeutic Riding’, such as Sport, Education and Medicine. Then there is Hippotherapy which is a direct medical treatment incorporating the body and movement of the horse to acquire a benefit. Hippotherapy is usually used for students with severe physical disabilities and needs a professional to make and organize the class plan. Many students with severe movement impairment need the use of a back rider who sits behind the student to help keep them in the correct position and to help with the exercises desired by the physiotherapist. The back rider must be a competent rider and understand the disabilities of each student. Hippotherapy is often performed bareback or with a sheepskin to protect against rubbing which can be a big problem for many disabilities and if not done properly can aggravate the problem and could even lead to amputation. The benefits of any kind of therapeutic riding are many, from improved circulation, the massage of atrophied limbs to massage of internal organs, a sense of caring for another being when you are used to always being the cared for, the freedom of movement and, finally, the elegance of the gait which is impossible to achieve by traditional therapies on the ground. Almost all students achieve a feeling of well-being and a joy in looking down at their surroundings for once rather than their usual ‘up at everything’. They also get the chance to cover terrain that is normally off limits to them. Just the action of sitting on a horse at a walk without doing any specific exercise can provide many of these advantages.

In hippotherapy, unlike the other forms of therapeutic riding, the rider never learns to ride or indeed ever takes control of the horse. The horse emulates the walking movement of the human gait and sends this message to the appropriate part of the rider’s brain so it is clearly important to have a horse with a good stride and in balance. The horse must also be calm and prepared for unusual noises and movements that the disabled person is likely to make. The preparation and exercise of the horse is one of the most important parts of any therapeutic riding whether it be sport or hippotherapy. Everything that will be done during a class must be practiced by the volunteers first, and practiced many times, until the horse is used to the movements and the objects used for the class such as toys, balls, rings and cups.

Before any type of therapeutic riding begins it is important to have a Doctor’s certificate to make sure there are no contraindications. The staff must be well prepared and have regular training sessions which help to prepare the horse as well. The equipment must be clean and sterilized as most disabled people are much more prone to infection. The sessions are usually boring to the horse as it is led around in circles and figure-eights with a leader and side-walkers and will stop at a stand for long periods. Therefore a good ride in the countryside or a good work-out prior to the session is very important so that the horse is calm.

Exercises include things such as reaching for the ears, lying down either frontwards or backwards in different positions depending on the desired effect, and face down hanging over the horse, which is used at the end of almost every lesson to help clear the lungs of the fluid which accumulates in people wheelchair bound.

Therapeutic riding has been practiced since the end if the First World War when it was used to help rehabilitate amputees. Many disabled people have gone on to competitions and even the Olympics. RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association) is the most common type of therapeutic riding and is practiced all over the world and almost anyone can participate and achieve great benefits. If you are interested in RDA, the Diamond Centre in England is the main centre for training courses. For information on worldwide therapeutic riding centres the FRDI in Australia (www.frdi.net) has a complete listing of all qualified centres and NARAH in the USA offers university and private course in all of the aspects of therapeutic riding including hippotherapy. Therapeutic riding is relatively new in Spain but is becoming increasingly popular, but please check with an official association, either national or international, before participating because there are a lot of cowboys out there who can do a lot of damage.

ANIMO ran in Southern Spain for fourteen years with no charge to students and offered international conferences and courses. All staff including the doctor and physiotherapist plus 40 some odd volunteers worked free of charge. We were financed by fund-raisers and support from The Entertainer Newspaper. Animo started way before its time and has now had to stop practical operations due to lack of funding and official support, but still continues to give courses and information to groups trying to set up.

Barbara Napier, President of ANIMO

Animal Assisted Therapy. Notes on Dogs


Hearing Dogs. They go to sound and return to owner over and over, whether a fire alarm, phone, door bell, baby crying, car honking. In an emergency, they lie at your feet and don’t move to let you know you have to leave the building. They can alert you to things like the kettle boiling, the timer or the alarm clock. All Hearing Dogs are taken from the dog pound put through two weeks training; if they are suitable they continue in the course: if not they are returned to pound. Hearing Dogs are always trained in a Hearing Dog centre.

Seizure Dogs (for epileptics). Incredibly, they can tell up to 20 minutes before a seizure and they alert their companion to go inside, where they can take medication, or to put guard in their mouth, or to lie down, as appropriate. The dog stays with their companion until help comes or the seizure ends. There are two theories on this, that the dog sees an aura change or he smells a chemical imbalance. No one knows.

Hearing Dogs and Seizure Dogs are still only found in the USA.

Seeing Eye Dogs (for The Blind). The dog guides the blind, alerts them to dangers and situations, helps them navigate and is their companion. In Spain, the dogs are trained and bred on site. In USA, dogs go to a foster home for the first year. The foster parent must attend classes every week. There are many rules for the training of a Seeing Eye dog, such as they can’t chase Frisbees or balls or so on.

Assistance Dogs. These dogs understand a large vocabulary and do every thing from helping a person to walk by giving impulsion and balance, to doing the shopping. In home-care, the dogs learn to recognise alarm sounds for medical equipment and to pick up the phone (in the USA, the phones will automatically connect to the emergency services if several numbers are pushed simultaneously) and to bark until police arrive. This telephone system is not in place as yet in Spain but Telefonica is working on it. Assistance Dogs pick up things, help remove clothes, carry items – all with their mouth. A notable example being Susan Duncan’s Joey.

All working dogs wear a jacket or harness to identify the work they are doing. They soon learn, as must the public, that the dog may not be played with or distracted during this time. When the jacket is off, the dog knows it is ‘free time’.

It must always be said in any presentation about the animal - what ever it is - horse or dog - that you are ‘incorporating it in your work’ not ‘using’. The word ‘using’ might suggest ‘abusing’! In England, dogs are not allowed to pull wheelchair etc. although in other countries they are.

Animals have no prejudice. It is beneficial for a disabled person to care for a living being - instead of feeling that they are always being on the receiving end. Other benefits include the fact that you can talk to them and tell them your problems and they are not judgmental. Touching the fur of a rabbit or a cat has been proven beneficial for arthritis and other muscular disorders.

After training, all dogs must go through a ‘getting acquainted time’ to see if the pair connect and if the person can control the dog. Then, once a match has been made, they must go to a retraining course every year. The dogs must be well behaved because they go to public places and must be kept pest-free and clean.

Choosing a puppy for certain tasks. There are a series of tests all potential candidates must go through to see if they will be suitable for the job. I shall come back to this later.