Monday, November 29, 2010

ANIMO: National Association for the study and investigation in all types of Animal Assisted Therapy

The ANIMO center ran for almost twenty years with a farm school, hippotherapy for severely disabled children, wild native animal park, classes in sign language, training of assistance dogs, many international conferences with guest speakers from around the globe, courses in therapeutic riding. We introduced the idea of taking animals to homes for the elderly and to hospitals; Spain is still a little reluctant to start that. ANIMO stayed within the international guide lines even though they are not required in Spain yet. Our latest project is the ANIMO-ALBERO project. ANIMO-ALBERO is a revolutionary new program to help people with terminal illness, heart problems or suffering the effects of toxic drug treatment, incorporating the movement of the horse to achieve outstanding benefits to the patient. Some of the information is included in my blog below but we are keeping analysis records and charting progress as well as what we do and for how long. It is an ongoing investigation but has already helped me, where no medical system seemed to be able. I am writing a book covering our program, my illness plus an entertaining view into the Spanish health system, called Health Through Horses. I hope to have a little more information before going to press.
Here are some people who helped get ANIMO off the ground by sharing their knowledge and talent with us and showing Spain just what is available world-wide:

Miguel Ríos - Famous Rock Star gave a benefit concert with a group of children accompanying him in sign language.
Padre Angel - Mensajeros de La Paz, came to ANIMO to learn how to train dogs for the elderly.
International Conferences: Guest Speakers
Susan Duncan - The Delta Society: came to speak with her dog Joe
Sandra Stone
- CHATA; animals in hospital with children
Sister Chiara - RDA; International liaison
Joan Would - Hippotherapist, UK
Caroline Theinpont - HAICHIKO assistance dogs Belgium
Pedro Pablo Martín Lopesino - Director of the ONCE guide dogs, Spain
Miguel Gallardo - Sac Xiroi; Center for AAT and delinquents
Dr.René Garrigue - Handi-Cheval France
Francisco Limonche - Telefonica
The list goes on and I would like to thank every one of them for helping to make ANIMO a success.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I Believe in Animal Assisted Therapy

It is a good thing I do, as well, since I have dedicated my life to it. I have been going on about the wonders of the horse and how it has been helping me cope with my illness, but it is not the only thing. All along, all of my animals have added so much to the quality of my life since I was a youngster. I always feel happy and fulfilled when in the company of animals. The responsibility you feel taking care of them, learning their psychology and how they think, their unselfish love that never ends, no matter how you feel; all in all they just bring a smile to your face and make you happy, besides all of the other benefits like companionship and stress relief. I was just telling my cousin, Lucia, how much I have been enjoying the full moon and wonderful warm nights because we have a new puppy and he needs to go out several times a night, so as not to have an accident in the house. He is a six week old Briard, and already wakes me to let me know when he wants to go out, he has figured out when the lights go out it is bed-time and only a few more minutes of play are acceptable. He is so expressive and seems to be able to communicate his every desire. Besides being my friend and companion, that makes me go outside to enjoy the world, I plan on teaching him to be a hearing dog for me. As soon as he has had all of his vaccines, I will start taking him everywhere, so that he can get socialized and learn to behave in public places. Even though hearing dogs don’t exist in Spain, I have trained them before and also have a license for him to be able to accompany me to restaurants and other public places during his training phase. Once he is trained, he should have all of the rights awarded to Seeing Eye dogs and other assistance dogs. I am very lucky because in the village where I live, the people are used to me bringing animals places, for training, so that they can make a difference in someone’s life. This puppy has already made a big difference in my life and I hope we will be able to have a long and bonding relationship with each other. His name is Raven and he is black with a little white tuft on his chest. Each dog has its own qualities and abilities. Once you figure out what they are then you can encourage these traits to help them become valuable assistance dogs. I wanted to train my Bearded Collie, Wilber, to be a hearing dog but he had no interest in sounds but in the end his strong point was working with people in wheelchairs and being able to pick things up, take things out of the fridge, he never did learn how to shut the refrigerator though. Also, he would know the names and be able to distinguish between groups of many objects - unless his ball was included in the group, when he’d go straight there. He could push the button to call the elevator and pick up the telephone receiver to give to you when it rang. He was at my side everywhere I went and had a tremendous vocabulary both spoken and in sign language, even though he never became a hearing dog.
Raven is only six weeks old, but already he shows a lot of promise and seems to be very bright. It is too early to start any type of formal training but they can learn so much if you talk to them and use the same words over. They learn through play at this stage because their attention span is short but it all goes into the making of a great dog later in life. It takes a lot of patience and time. You have to be able to dedicate your time to repeat and go over things they know while at the same time keep introducing new words and activities to their lives. By the time he is six months and ready for obedience training it should be relatively easy because he will already know and have practiced the basics. I will just have to wait and see where his strong points are as he grows up, it is no good trying to force them to learn something that they just aren’t good at or like. An assistance dog must be happy at his work and do it out of pleasure and love. Assistance dogs are very well adjusted and used to a change in environment while enjoying the constant companionship, that most family dogs miss out on because they usually have to stay at home, which is also a very important job. Every day now, Raven is surprising me with just how fast he catches on to things and finds his way around. He seems to remember from one day to the next, where things came from and where we go, he is also becoming a little more independent, being able to entertain himself for short periods because he knows where to find us. It rained last night and after his first quick trip out he decided to sleep through the night instead of going out again. I just love this little puppy.

These posters were made by Viv Snailham, a volunteer, supporter and great friend. Sadly, she has passed on and is, no doubt, leading programs for dogs and horses Elsewhere.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Day at El Albero

On Saturday I went to El Albero with two friends, Ken and Sarah. Ken is a photographer so he got lots of photos of the wonderful things that go on there. We all had a great day with the animals and I did my therapy on Nora, with the help of Loli.
While we were there we got to watch two stallions play like something no one has ever seen before. Having been raised together as foals and then separated when they got older they have a huge unrequited love for each other, so when they sometimes get a chance to be turned out together, the antics never stop and it is spectacular to watch. One is a magnificent Friesian Stallion and the other a petite Moroccan donkey stallion, Ero and Pepe. See them play! Pepe is the proud father of little Bambi who is just too cute for words so I wanted to show you them with some of Ken’s pictures. Later we were entertained by Rad, the little Coatimundi, who duly managed to escape, allowing Ken to get some great shots of Loli on the roof with Rad. Later Ken entered Rad’s house to get some close ups of Loli and her little baby when it turned out that Rad had developed a crush on Ken and his camera. Ken has the battle scars to prove it. Besides the horses and donkeys – the main population – there are peacocks, pheasant, various strains of chickens and an ostrich. After visiting with the animals, and putting mercurochrome on Ken’s nose, we went down to a nearby beach-bar and had a tapa lunch. In all, we had a really great day and I feel so much better. I am forever grateful to Loli and her kindness and interest in getting me well, it is really helping.


Loli with Rad

El Albero Centro Ecuestre, Los Partidores, La Cañada, Almería. Ph 699762339 (Español)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

El Caballo de Mis Sueños

This is the horse of my dreams. He is a Friesian stallion called Ero.

ANIMO- Asociación Nacional de Investigación MOjácar

Since I am the president of the non-profit, animal assisted therapy and investigative association, I am going to put it to work, but this time to help me and millions of other people that could benefit from the program I am still developing. Every day I discover new ways to improve my quality of life and make living with a terminal disease bearable. If I can’t kill the disease at least I can make what time I have as happy and pain-free as possible. Since I have seen the effects and the benefits that I receive I know I can help other people to live a more fruitful life under difficult and frightening circumstances. I am going to try and get the provincial TV to come and make a documentary on Loli’s and my program. I don’t want all of this to go unknown. I know it is very revolutionary and people won’t believe it, but I have experienced it and benefited from it, giving myself a few extra years of good quality life, which I wouldn’t have had without it. First I would like to say something about organ donors. I have been one since I got my first drivers license in California. It has always been something that I have felt very strongly about. I know that it goes against the feelings and beliefs of many people, but for those that are willing to be a donor it is important that you have a living will. Indeed, in California, this useful document can be on the back of your license. That way in case of accident the hospitals will know that you are a donor, or with an official living will like I have, then if you go to the hospital a little red flag comes up on the computer stating that you are a donor and what you want done with your remains. A living will also makes clear your wishes of whether or not you would want to be kept alive on machinery or not, that way saving many family traumas in case of coma or a vegetative state. There are many different options to choose from and they all go to help other people that may be suffering and you can change their lives. I never thought that I would be on the receiving end but after being blind for a year, I received an eye transplant from a donor and now have sight again. Without the help of this Good Samaritan, who thought in advance to make their wishes known in case of their death, I would still be blind today. I am very grateful and more than ever want to raise awareness of the benefits of being a donor. Please consider it.

Benefits of the ANIMO-ALBERO therapeutic riding program:
We have already discovered many benefits which I will list but I know we will find many more before we are finished, it is an ongoing investigation.
1. Feeling of well being.
2. Improved circulation.
3. Oxygenated blood flow to the extremities.
4. Massage to all of the organs which helps correct problems like to much potassium, triglycerides, urea, all of which cause pain in the bones and muscles.
5. Improved functioning of the digestive tract.
6. Reduction in ‘purpuras’ or red blotches caused by vasculitis.
7. Elimination of toxins in the blood stream and their side effects.
8. Clearing of fluids from the lungs.
9. Strengthening of muscles and muscle tone.
10. Reduction in medication needed.
11. Increased appetite.
12. Increased energy level.
13. Aides in stopping arrhythmia.
14. Improved balance and posture.
15. Helps to heal wounds.
16. Increases lung capacity.
17. Puts you in shape for pre- and post operations, speeds up recovery time.
18. Reduces tiredness and weakness.
19. Helps the body absorb and use iron for those people with anaemia.
20. Cures insomnia or at least makes a huge difference.

These are just of the things we have found out so far that really work. The horse does the work and you get the benefit, thereby not putting any stress on the heart. There is no need for prior experience.


The therapeutic riding program, ANIMO-ALBERO has been designed, investigated, studied and practiced by Barbara Napier, the president of ANIMO and Loli Berenguel Gálvez owner of El Albero, together with the help of a few members of the medical community.
The ANIMO-ALBERO Project is an investigation still in progress. With over fifty years experience in Animal Assisted Therapy along with complete knowledge of the horse and the benefits it provides to people with disabilities, the ANIMO-ALBERO project is a revolutionary study into the medical benefits the horse can provide for people suffering from terminal illness, cardio-vascular problems, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, toxic medication and long term convalesce. Also in any lung or heart oriented problem that hinders the healing process or kidney and digestive tract problems. It helps to heal scars due to surgery and keeps implants and transplants healthy. In the ANIMO-ALBERO therapy program, the horse does the work and the patient receives the benefit without any stress to the heart. No prior experience in riding is needed. This program is ideal for pre and post operation preparation and recovery, as well as any problem that needs a good oxygenated blood flow to the organs, skin and extremities. The ANIMO-ALBERO therapy program is fun and easy to do. It has already provided so much information that can improve the quality of life of people suffering from any of the above mentioned problems. We have also found that this program has the ability to reduce the results of blood analysis, lowering levels of things such as potassium, triglycerides, creatine, and urea, while allowing the bloodstream to absorb and utilize iron, to lower cholesterol, reduce arrhythmia, while – unlike many medicines – maintaining other minerals so necessary to keep the body healthy. Other note-worthy benefits are: a feeling of well-being, more energy and relaxed muscles; at the same time reducing depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Even though the effects of the ANIMO-ALBERO therapeutic riding program are short-term, between six to thirty hours, it gives the body time to heal and recuperate, leading to a better quality of life with less pain and trauma to the person. After a lot of investigation and studying of results, we have determined that three times a week for between one half hour to an hour is ideal, keeping the body in shape throughout the whole week, hopefully leading to a termination of the existing problem. However, with practicing our program just once a week (for logistical reasons), the results are still very noticeable. Other benefits that have become apparent are improved muscle- and skin-tone, better balance, eye/hand coordination and mind clarity. All leading to a happier, healthier life style.

El proyecto de hípica terapeutita, ANIMO-ALBERO ha sido diseñado, investigado, estudiado y practicado por Bárbara Napier, Presidenta de ÁNIMO, y Loli Berenguel Gálvez, dueña de centro El Albero, junto con la ayuda de algunos miembros de la comunidad medica.
El proyecto ANIMO-ALBERO es un investigación todavía en progreso. Con mas de cincuenta años de experiencia en Terapia Asistida por Animales y un conocimiento profundo y completo del caballo y los beneficios que da a personas con discapacidades, el proyecto ANIMO-ALBERO es un estudio revolucionario de los beneficios médicos que el caballo puede facilitar a personas sufriendo un enfermedad terminal, problemas cardiovascular, tratamientos de quimioterapia y radiación, medicación toxico y recuperaciones largas. También en cualquier problema del corazón o pulmón que impide el proceso de curación, la arritmia, o problemas de los riñones y sistema digestiva. Ayuda curar cicatrices de cirugía y mantiene injertos y transplantes sanos. En el programa terapéutica ANIMO-ALBERO, el caballo hace el trabajo mientras que el paciente recibe los beneficios sin ningún estrés al corazón ni experiencia previa. Este programa es ideal para ante y post operatorio preparación y recuperación, también cualquier problema que necesita una buena circulación de sangre oxigenada a los órganos, piel y extremidades. La programa terapéutica ANIMO-ALBERO es divertido y fácil en hacer. Ya nos ha dado tanta información que puede mejorar la calidad de vida sufriendo cualquier de los síntomas arriba escritos. También hemos encontrado que este programa tiene la habilidad en reducir los resultados de los análisis sanguíneos como potasio, triglicéridos, creatina y urea mientras que deja el cuerpo absorber y utilizar hierro, baja el nivel de colesterol mientras que mantiene los otros minerales tan necesarios para mantener el cuerpo sano. Otros beneficios notables son; sensación de bienestar, mas energía, relajación del los músculos al mismo tiempo reduciendo depresión, ansiedad y insomnio.
Aunque los efectos del programa terapéutica ANIMO-ALBERO son de corto plazo, entre seis y treinta horas, deja tiempo para que el cuerpo puede curarse y recuperar dando una cualidad de vida mejor con menos dolor y trauma. Después de mucho estudio y investigación en nuestros resultados, hemos llegado al conclusión de lo ideal seria hacerlo tres veces a la semana, en sesiones entre media hora y una hora, dejando el cuerpo con tiempo a recuperarse y renovarse con el motivo de recuperar el funcionamiento de los órganos. Llegando a un terminación del problema existente. Haciendo nuestro programa solo una vez a la semana (por razones logísticas), todavía da resultados impresionantes. Otros beneficios que hemos encontrado son el mejoramiento del tono de piel y los músculos, mejor equilibrio, coordinación entre ojo y mano y claridad del mente, todo llegando a una cualidad de vida sana y feliz.

Fotos: Ken Hogg

Thursday, November 11, 2010

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 front wards 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 ( 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, as an official non profit organization, but started way before on an informal basis - all with no charge to students - and offered international conferences and courses. All staff including the doctor and physiotherapist plus forty some odd volunteers worked free of charge. We were financed by fund-raisers and by us personally. We worked on our land with our animals, nine horses, four donkeys and a whole array of farm and native wild animals. Most of the animals were abandoned or donated and hand raised by me, as a result they all got along well, could be handled by everyone and could be turned out into a large pen together, making it sort of like a petting zoo. Everything was accessable to all types of disabilities and was also used by the local school. Animo started way before its time and has 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. ANIMO continues working in investigation and studies in AAT. Our children played a large role in every aspect of ANIMO from exercising the animals to interpreting conferences. Without our children and their friends, I don’t think it would have been possible for ANIMO to have so many students and animals, we would have had to work on a much smaller scale even with so many volunteers.

Barbara Napier
President of ANIMO

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Conference Notes

The III Annual Conference on Animal Assisted Therapy in Almería came to a close on Sunday. There wasn’t a large turn out but the people there were all very enthusiastic about their programs and finding out more about other centers and ways that animals can help people in an urban environment. As I have mentioned before each group has its own philosophy and terminology, the important thing is that there is now a growing number of people interested in the way we can incorporate animals into our lives, especially those of the disabled. It mostly covered dogs, cats and horses, with a mixture of presentations on anything from service-dogs trained without food rewards to gooey dog-in-pound stories to hippotherapy to dolphin-therapy followed by a practical presentation from the Guardia Civil to demonstrate how dogs can help find anything from lost people to bombs and drugs, or even, apparently, counterfeit money. Go Rover!
Every day we find more ways in which animals can help us emotionally, physically and with chores we are unable to do because of an impairment of some kind. I was pleased, even though a little embarrassed, to be recognized and called from the audience to speak as the pioneer in this field here in Spain. I am not sure why Spain has been so slow in coming around to the idea since it has been so popular and beneficial in so many other countries for a very long time. My problem, with my center ANIMO, was that I started twenty years too early for Spain and they weren’t ready for the idea, they thought of me as some crazy American that wanted to put disabled people on horses or train dogs for deaf people or take animals into hospitals and residential homes for the elderly. The only program that was known and accepted was the ONCE dogs for the blind and even though they had tremendous backing and funding they were turning out very few dogs a year. If Mojácar had been a little more ahead of its time they would have realized that if we had gone with my plans twenty years ago we could have had one of the best and largest training facilities in Europe for all types of Animal Assisted Therapy which would have drawn a large international group for conferences and courses.
I mention all of this in my article on this blog called Mojácar’s Greed Cost them a Gold Mine. All in all I think it was a good conference and it let us all know what is happening in Almería in these fields, because there still seems to be a terrible lack of communication between groups or much level of practicality. At the end of the conference they didn’t even ask for people’s e-mails or names and addresses to contact them for the next event.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Working Pets

This weekend, there's a two-day seminar in Almería about 'Working Pets' or, more properly, El Papel de los Animales de Compañía en el Entorno Urbano. The seminar will examine how pets can help the elderly and the disabled through their companionship. Saturday 9th October from 5.00pm - 8.00pm and Sunday 9.30 - 1.00pm.
The seminar will be held at the Almería Museum (Crta. de Ronda, just up from the train station) and practical demonstrations with the Guardia Civil anti-drug dogs(Sunday 12.00 noon) will be held in the museum grounds. or write

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mojácar's Greed Cost Them a Gold Mine

Because of any lack of vision for the future of Mojácar and greediness to put money in their pockets at the moment, instead of thinking of the future gold-mine that lay ahead, Mojácar lost its chance to be one of the leading centers for Animal Assisted Therapy in Europe. Over twenty-five years ago I started, on my own, a farm school and petting zoo which I let the school use for free. Then I started the first AAT program in Spain providing Therapeutic Riding, farm school and native wildlife park. Four times we were donated land, ten hectares each time, only to have it taken away again after all the plans were drawn up and the projects financing granted. It was then used for something else, in two cases totally fictitious, only to get the grant money. I put on five international conferences, with speakers from various countries, and several courses including two for the University of Almería. When the head of the ONCE was at an international meeting for the disabled in Australia, he was speaking to the head of the local organization, who was explaining to him about AAT and all of the benefits and programs around the world, most of whom were at this conference; the head of the ONCE said it was a shame that Spain had no such program, only to be told that one of the best programs in Europe at the time was right here in Mojácar. I had actually met with the head of the ONCE several times to talk about my program but he obviously thought it wasn’t worth the bother. It was actually he who told me after he returned from the conference how embarrassed he was! The disabled organization in Almería (I won’t say ‘who’) actually helped me to get my paperwork and non-profit licence only to steal the grant when it finally arrived for the first training center in Europe for training dogs for the disabled, therapeutic riding and farm school.
It was not just a functioning center and educational place for the school-children but also a place for people to come from all over the world to learn how to work in these fields. The architectural plans actually included a covered riding ring with bleachers and a restaurant overlooking the ring plus stables where people could board their horses, petting zoo, a small veterinary clinic and emergency room, school with accredited teachers and a full course with degree in any of the branches of AAT. It would have been a place for the whole community and tourists to visit. The ring was designed so that it could be used for concerts or football games and may other events. All of the training of the animals and the classes for the disabled had its own separate area within the grounds.
We ran for almost fifteen year starting small until we had over forty students, all Spanish, severely physically disabled, and more than forty volunteers, almost all foreign, including a vet, doctor, physiotherapist and riding instructor and me as the coordinator, all on my own property with my own animals at no cost to the students and no help from the Town Hall. Now that it has become fashionable there are a lot of EU grants available and people without the slightest knowledge of what they are doing are starting up centers all over Spain. If Mojácar had only thought ahead a little we could have been the front-runners in this field for all of Europe and held International conferences to fill the hotels and students to come and study. I travelled all over Europe giving lectures and going to conferences representing Spain and was on the board of directors of the FRDI for four years, still Mojácar never helped. We trained five dogs to start with, to help people in wheelchairs and for the deaf, but had to drop the program due to lack of funds.
Money is available for grants, and there are even agents out there who will help organisations find this funding – for a flat 20%. It is no secret that a lot of ‘charity money’ ends up stolen, and even large and well-known organisations in Spain have been caught. It is almost considered ‘normal’ – so who on earth is going to help fund a group run by foreign residents?
Funding for a charity is key; but it’s also pretty hard to keep afloat if the national and local authorities won’t help.
We held quite a few fundraising events; with the only benefit to ANIMO was the money from the sale of drinks during the day. One such event was Burro Baseball. It was a huge success and the only place in Europe to hold such a game plus we did something to help honour the disappearing Spanish donkey. It was filmed on TV and it did not cost Mojácar one penny and could have put them on the map. We did it for seven years with the help of the American Naval Base at Rota, who provided all of the equipment every year and even one year they sent a bus of twenty-three marines to play against Mojácar. When we started to have a shortage of donkeys to play, Mojácar refused to help and the game was dropped. We also held the first pop concert with Spain’s most famous rock star, Miguel Rios, and a chorus accompanying in sign language which was also televised and Mojácar never paid any attention. Our politicians couldn’t see beyond the ends of their noses. Now it is too late: I had to stop due to lack of personal funding and bad health. I am now back in the game but helping others start their programs.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Riding Out My Illness

I know I have talked a lot about Loli and the wonders that have happened since I met her after giving my speech at the university. I don’t want to drone on unnecessarily but between us we have been working on a program to help me get stronger and to improve my health and it is working. I am writing a book about it called ‘Health Through Horses: a personal journey to recuperation, health and happiness’: The book will include a lot of personal things about my illness and some funny experiences but mostly it is about how Loli and I started to come up with a program that can help so many people recovering from cancer and other illnesses. So I will put here an excerpt from the book on some of my exercises.


I decided that I couldn’t cure the virus (Note from Editor. Barbara’s virus remains unidentified after ten years) but I could make myself as strong and healthy as possible and knowing the power of the horse and what it can do, I decided to set up a program for myself using all of the knowledge I had learned over the years. With chronic kidney dysfunction and chronic anaemia, I was told they would just get worse and that my body didn’t absorb the iron I was taking in so I would have to inject myself every day. I was also told I would need to eat from a feeding tube for the rest of my life. None of these things were acceptable to me so I wanted to change things and make a difference in my own health.
I started riding at Loli’s once a week on the lunge-line, and in the ring, it soon became clear, I don’t know why, that riding on the lunge-line provided much more benefit. I think the reason being that I didn’t have to think about my reins or steering so all the concentration went into me, Loli was in charge of the horse and watching that my posture was correct. The benefit of riding bareback on the lunge-line is that you don’t need to have any previous experience. You have the sursingle to hold on to; someone in charge of the horse and you can go at your own speed. Start at the walk and when you feel comfortable then you can progress to the trot and so on. I have improved so much both mentally and physically and hope to continue through experimenting with more useful ideas.
I am still slightly anaemic but I don’t have to take iron and I don’t have to inject myself. My kidneys have improved by one point, which doesn’t seem much but really is a huge advancement because they were supposed to be getting worse not better. The side-effects of the steroids are almost non existent except for the continual hunger. My insomnia is finally easing up and letting me sleep a few nights a week. The most impressive result was that of my triglycerides - which turn fat into energy for your muscles. The highest you can go is 200 but mine was over 400 and after three weeks, of riding once a week, I now have my levels down just below 200 and it is still going down. I knew I had to keep a good flow of oxygenated blood running to all of my extremities, because at one point they were going to amputate my toes and the tips of my ears. All of this was avoided by getting a good blood-flow to my extremities; also through my heart and lungs so that was one of the first exercises I started to work on. It was important to help keep the new skin and implants from dying. I use a yoga breathing technique and stretching and opening my chest cavity. I also breathe from the abdomen instead of the chest. I do all of my exercises at the walk, trot and canter in both directions. I still can’t do some of them at the canter but each time I get closer. There are still some places I can’t reach in the stretches but I will get there. That is one of the wonders of this program, you don’t need previous experience and you go at your own pace, meanwhile, just sitting on the horse while it is walking is giving you benefits. After a long time in bed, especially hospital beds, which are known for being uncomfortable, I had a lot of muscle-pain and a bad and weak posture. That was one of the next things I worked on, by stretching above my head with a pole and doing push-ups on the horse’s withers. It will all become clearer when you see the pictures and get a full description of the exercises, now I am trying to tell you what and how I decided to work on different parts of my body. My kidneys bothered me so I had to find a way to strengthen my lower back and stretch my torso so there wouldn’t be so much pressure on them. I needed energy, most of that came from the canter with my arms spread out and my eyes shut. I had to be in a good frame of mind so as not to go into depressions every time I had to change my bandages or see myself in the mirror; I helped achieve this by getting back out into the world and helping other disabled people and the decision to stop dwelling on my own problems. I also had to work on my balance, since I am almost completely deaf, that included a lot of trot, stop, trot, stop plus a series of other things like around-the-world and riding backwards. I needed to build strength in my legs and build muscle-tone, so I put my hands on the rump of the horse and ‘did the bicycle’, foot circles and bringing my knees together and lowering them again. Between each set of exercises I would relax by putting my hands just behind my hips, resting on the horse and sit up straight at a good working walk. To relax my back muscles I lie down with my head on the rump and just go a few times around the ring. It is amazing what a great massage you get from that but you can’t do it at the trot or canter, at least I can’t. I do a lot of stretching, reaching from tail to ear and back again stretching way over my head. I spend about five minutes on each exercise in each direction at each pace. I found that I could isolate muscles that were bothering me by finding the right muscle on the horse and the right pace to make it work and it is incredible how when you get it just right everything just slips into place. Then I do some basic aerobics for fitness and energy. It is very important that your instructor makes sure your arms are at shoulder level when stretched out and that your hands are a shoulder’s-width apart when you work with a pole or other instrument. Always look between the horses ears with your head up even when you are doing twisting exercises to the sides. When I finish my workout, my muscles feel tired but good and relaxed and I have boundless energy and a fantastic positive feeling of well- being. I know I will always have moments of depression and wonder why this should have happened to me. There are times when I just want to give up but then I see all of the things I have to live for and it gives me a renewed strength to carry on. I know I am very lucky to have such a wonderful family and friends as a support group; I probably would have given up if not for them.
It has all been trial-and-error but now it is working well enough with me to get a few doctors interested and that is what we want in this field. I have seen over the last thirty years the benefits horses provide for the disabled but I never put much thought into illness and recovery. Since my illness I neither have the money or the strength to reopen my center ANIMO, but I am helping a few small centers around the area and giving a few speeches. Now, my main concern is to get better myself and if I can help other people in the process, so much the better.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Little Boy Kitty Lost His Meow

Something fell out of the tree straight into my husband’s arms. When I asked him what it was, he took a look and said “a little boy kitty” and that is how he got his name. Little Boy Kitty was no normal kitten, he was completely black and tiny with the softest fur you have ever felt and he knew from that very second that he fell from the tree that Lenox and this house were his. He wandered around with all of the big dogs and other animals without a care in the world. He knew this was going to be home. As Little Boy Kitty began to grow he also began to speak, or meow, about and to everything and everyone he could find. He became particularly verbal at meal times especially if you were late, according to him. He would weave in and out between your feet, tripping you up and meow to the point that you felt like throwing him out of the door. When I say that he was no normal kitty, I meant it, he never just curled up in a ball and went to sleep or did any of the other things cats normally do, no, he had to stretch out on your chest with his arms wrapped around you like a big hug and he always put his chin right under yours and looked at you with these adorable eyes so you didn’t dare move him. There he would stay until you had to go to sleep, and that is when we finally started to put him out of the bedroom at night, so we could roll over and get some sleep ourselves. As he grew he became more and more verbal. When you would come home he would have to tell you all about his day and who had been mean to him and what bird he had tried to catch, all before you could get the groceries into the house. If we would go away for a few days, when we came home, it was hours of telling us everything that had happened. After a few years it really became quite annoying, his insisting on breakfast while you were in the middle of fixing it. He just never shut-up. Then one day he just lost his meow. He would open his mouth but no noise came out. He was waiting for me at the door as usual and was weaving in and out of my feet waiting for breakfast but there was no noise. I checked his throat and him but there was no meow. It was gone. We looked everywhere but it was nowhere to be found. It had been about a week and still no meow. One day when I went upstairs I saw, sitting next to me on the bed a huge, and I mean huge, bull gecko, one of our house-lizards that usually live behind the paintings. I didn’t want him to sit with me so I told him to shoo, very politely. He was so fat that he couldn’t hold on to the walls or ceiling anymore, without falling, splat onto the floor again, so he had to stay on the floor or bed. He had no intention of moving from his comfortable position on my bed so I became a little more insistent, when all of the sudden he just looked up at me in a deliberate way and said MEOW. WHAT A SHOCK! I came running down stairs to tell Lenox. So we finally found where Little Boy Kitty’s meow went to and to this day Little Boy Kitty still gives us hugs and is still trying to tell us about his day, but he is completely silent and fortunately I haven’t seen that big bull gecko again and I hope I never do.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wonders Happen at Loli's

Lenox and I met the most wonderful lady called Loli and her son Alberto just by chance when I was giving a lecture at the University on Animal Assisted Therapy a few months ago. After the lecture she came up and introduced herself, and you could tell just by the way she touched you, that there was something very special about her. She knew nothing about us except the lecture I had given. She invited us to come and visit her and we went the very next weekend. She has a walled in compound full of horses and all sorts of animals from farm to exotic. She is a riding instructress and had very kindly lent her ponies to a group of students from the university to learn and practice Therapeutic Riding, while she taught her regular students in the other ring. Her animals have all been hand-raised since they were tiny and are the most gentle and calm animals I have ever met - along with my own of course.
I have a virus that is unknown and they can’t kill which has left me disfigured and going deaf. I was blind for a year but they gave me transplants and we are just hoping the virus doesn’t eat them as well. Because of the toxic medicine that I take, I have a lot of ups and downs physically and mentally which must be hard for my husband but he is very understanding, and is by my side through it all. Loli picked up on it right away and knew the only solution was to get me back on a horse and ride it out, so to say. It had been almost eight years since I had ridden but I started slow and in a few minutes was galloping with my arms out like I was flying. I haven’t felt that good in years, I had energy that lasted several days and was strong and in good humor. She insisted that we come the next weekend and try some more to see if I got the same effect. It was even better. She treated us to lunch and friendship and made us feel like part of the family and even though it is just Loli and her son who have to care for all those animals, she takes time out for me to make me better. Now we go every week if we can.
We noticed, since I had taught ‘equinoterapia’ for over thirty years, that the new people were missing the basics, which are so important for the safety of the children. If Spain wants to be on an international level, they must learn the basic safety procedures and follow the international rules, because even though they are not required in Spain yet, they soon will be. This brought us even closer together and now we are starting to give courses on the Basics of Therapeutic Riding with the backing of the Spanish Riding Federation. It is a course for professionals, aides and volunteers. We were looking forward to starting in October along with Beatriz the physiotherapist from ANIMO, but things haven't worked out yet. We will be publishing a manual soon with everything you should know before you let a disabled child near a horse and what things can help and what can hinder. Exercises, how to choose the right pony right through to first aid.
Thank you Loli for making me forget about my own problems and help other people again, at the same time ride out my illness.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Just imagine for a moment that you are in a huge circus tent with hundreds of people and it is silent and completely dark. You can’t see anything, not even the person next to you and the all of the sudden you start to hear one set of castanets and then another until it sounds like there are about ten people playing them and tap dancing. The beat changes and gets faster and then each one starts to do a slightly different beat that blends beautifully into a harmony of wooden castanets. Slowly the lights start to come on very, very slowly the tent starts to light up and you begin to see the things around you, then the spotlight hits the center of the stage and there are four beautiful pure-bred Spanish stallions dancing in place to a beat on a wooden floor just off the ground. The crowd was in shock to see that it was four horses making this music with their feet on the planks each in different time but blending into beautiful harmony. That was the start of a wonderful horse theatre I saw in Madrid. These horses, in the dark, just stood and waited their turn to be told when to start prancing in place, making the typical Spanish sounds of a dancer with castanets. We were all expecting to see a group of Flamenco dancers there. The show just got better and better, there were girls doing ballet holding on to the saddle while a man rode and the ballerina did exactly the same moves as the horse from prancing to flying changes. These horses travel around the world as ambassadors to their country. It is a cultural program paid for by the government; several other countries do the same thing.
The French have Circe du Soleil, which is a travelling horse theatre, paid for and run by the French government. It is a true theatre, and tells a story, in fact each show tells a different story. The ring is round, like a round-about, with a stage in the middle and aisles crossing through the middle for the horses. The timing must be exact or the horses would collide with each other as they cross over each other and on to the round part of the ring, missing each other by a few inches, almost always at a canter, while people jump on and off and do acrobatics, the whole time a story is being told and played out with beautiful costumes. If you ever get a chance to see them go for sure because it was just as impressive as the flying horses, the Lipizzans, from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna; the blood line originally from The Czech Republic, they are also sponsored by the government to show the horses, their beauty and talent to the world. Now most countries have their own breed of horse, every one as gorgeous as the next. They have crossed some of these horses with other breeds to make some of the best horses in the world. I know most of us from California saw the Lipizzans at the Cow Palace, when we were kids, but the French theatre was equally thrilling.
The Portuguese Lusitano horses and the Lipizzans from Vienna and the PRE from Spain are all fantastic horses and all share a common blood-line but each country has kept their own identity. Even the Dutch Friesian horses, that look and act like PRE; only they have a heavier bone-structure. The Lusitano is supposed to have a stronger temperament than the PRE. Besides their beauty, the one thing they all have in common is that you feel like you are floating when you ride them. It is very difficult to explain the fantastic pace of these horses.
I have a very hard time to tell the difference between the Portuguese Lusitano and the Pure bred Spanish horses, they are very similar in build, beauty and temperament.
To see the Pura Raza Española pure-bred Spanish horses there are two big shows every year¸ SICAB in Seville and ECUMAD in Madrid where you can see these horses do things you never imagined a horse could do. Also they have all of the breeders there with horses for sale and all of the foals. A lot of foals are actually born during the fair. There are exhibitions every night and during the day you can go from one arena to the next and watch anything from foals through to freestyle dressage to music.
In order to try a preserve the bloodline the military has a herd of stallions whose job it is to go around Spain to the small out of the way villages and let the farmers breed their mares to a PRE, that way the foal gets half-papers and next time it is bred it will be Pura Raza Española. It costs a fortune to take your mare to a PRE stallion, but the army only charges an honorary fee, so that every one can afford it. There used to be one main problem with this system. That was, how to get your mare to the military station they had chosen, in some way out in the sticks village. None of us had trailers and it would have been about a three-day ride to get to our closest one. U-Haul and Rent-Rite didn’t exist so you couldn’t rent one. They use abandoned buildings and made make-shift stables. Where we were was an old pig sty, cleaned and converted for the mares and their foals, most still had a foal with them because they breed them three weeks after giving birth so that they have a foal every year. The stallions were kept on the other side of the building with a large wall and gate between the mares and the stallions. On this blog page is one of my favourite stories and it is called “Foaling with the Army”. Read it I think you will get a good laugh out of it.
My first picture is a Pura Raza Española and the second is of a Fresian three year old stallion who has already won some local championships in dressage.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A New Look

That's a Pura Raza Española at the top of the page which I was lucky enough to ride the other day. This blog is about horses (and dogs and rabbits and donkeys...) and about my life with animals in Spain. It's also about 'Animo', an AAT association which I ran in Mojácar some time back. Bits of this blog are in Spanish, but most of it is in English.
The photographs and text found on the Animo blog have written permission from the parents to be used only for the promotion of equinoterapia by Animo. There are also links to other sites that you might find of interest, this does not mean that we follow the same standards or teaching methods, we are all just groups interested in helping the disabled improve their quality of life through working with animals.
Barbara Napier
brbrnapier (at) yahoo (dot) com

Saturday, July 31, 2010

La Hípica y sus Beneficios

La equinoterapia, hípica adaptada, hípica terapéutica, hípica para discapacidades, hípica y hipoterapia, son todos maneras distintas de explicar como la musculatura y paso del caballo puede beneficiar al ser humano, con problemas físicas, mentales, o solo para quedar en forma y pasar bien. Podemos incorporar al caballo en el deporte y en tratamientos médicos. Conociendo bien al caballo y las necesidades de los alumnos, un equipo bien formado puede tratar a personas con y sin problemas. El caballo es un animal muy noble y fuerte, y cuando está tratado bien, hace todo para ayudarnos dentro de cualquier de los campos que elegimos. El paso del caballo es casi idéntico del paso humano y porque nuestro cerebro y sistema neuromuscular está abierta a cambios, es por esta razón, si podemos estimularle correctamente, el alumno puede aprender la sensación de los movimientos normales y con suficiente práctica, partes del sistema neuromuscular puede arreglarse y supeditar la parte dañado. Según la discapacidad del alumno, claro está, hay que elegir la rama mas indicada.
Adultos con o sin discapacidad empiezan con más miedo y suelen ser más rígidos que los niños. Los niños no tiene responsabilidades y mucho menos miedo de lo que puede pasar si se caen. Una vez que un adulto está más acostumbrado al montar al caballo y vea la seguridad que se supone en tener laterales y una guía, se relaje más.
El pasó y travesía que hace el caballo cambia en una forma notable la clase por completo. Si el caballo es violento o vago, el alumno no recibe la estimulación que necesita para hacer sus ejercicios. El caballo hace la diferencia. Hay que elegir un caballo adecuado por cada caso. El profesor de equitación, fisioterapeuta y el coordinador del equipo, entre ellos, tienen que elegir el caballo más adecuado por cada alumno. Cada alumno necesita un movimiento diferente para lograr el objetivo de cada clase. El tamaño del caballo influye mucho también. Si el caballo tiene el lomo un poco redondo, es mejor para hacer los ejercicios a pelo donde se saca provecho del mejor beneficio. Puede ser un poco más difícil para las personas con problemas de abrir mucho las piernas, pero al mismo tiempo ayuda para que las mismas piernas poco a poco abren más durante cada clase.
Los que hacen hípica como deporte, reciben muchos de los mismos beneficios como los que hacen la hípica terapéutica. Pero, claro está que el primero es activo mientras que el segundo es pasivo. No están montando a caballo para aprender montar en sí o convertirse en jinete. Las personas que están recuperando de una enfermedad también reciben mucha ayuda del caballo. El caballo ayuda estimular el sistema circulatorio y quite algunos de las toxinas que quedan dentro del cuerpo después de un tratamiento con medicamento nocivos, dejando al alumno con más energía y sentido de buen estar. Si uno tiene que pasar mucho tiempo dentro del hospital o la casa, el caballo hace masaje a todos los músculos sin que el alumno tenga que mover. El caballo hace el trabajo y el alumno recibe los beneficios. Para personas que pierden su equilibrio, por ejemplo alguien que no ha nacido sorda pero luego queda sorda por una enfermedad o un tipo de Parkinson, hay muchos ejercicios para que el cerebro aprenda de nuevo como recuperar el equilibrio.
Si uno tiene amor por los animales, las clases avanzan más rápidos. La terapia asistida por animales no es para todos, hay muchas personas que prefieren y reciben más beneficio de terapia ocupacional. Pero no hay duda del beneficio de hípica terapéutica. La hípica terapéutica trabaja los músculos, da equilibrio, da energía, mejora el sistema circulatorio, da masaje a los músculos y los órganos, mejora la coordinación entre ojo y mano, y todo lo anterior mientras que el alumno se siente encima de un caballo con un paso bueno, sin hacer mucho esfuerzo propio. Todo el ejercicio, y no sin menos la hípica en general, es buenísima para curar el insomnio, ayuda vencer a los enfermedades y mantener un estado de buena salud físico y mental.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Terapia Asistida Por Animales



Todos estos tipos de terapias ayudan a las personas en una manera u otra.
Tarda años para aprender como cuidar e incorporar los animales dentro de nuestras vidas: Todo depende en la rama de trabajo que eliges.
Siempre hay que recordar que cuando tratas con animales y humanos pueden suceder problemas si todo no esta bien controlado.
Comida y agua fresca, higiene y cariño son las cosas mas importantes para tener éxito en cualquier campo que tiene que ver con animales y sobre todo, un buen conocimiento de ellos y de su habites.
La mayoría de los niños ya viven dentro de una ciudad o pueblo y no tienen la posibilidad de conocer a los animales de la granja como antes. También deberían de conocer a los animales y insectos que son autóctonos en su zona amen que a las plantas autóctonas.
En terapias como los primeros tres notados arriba tarda mucho tiempo para aprender como manejar y adiestrar los animales por cada caso. Si no lo saben las personas pueden tener infección o alergias: por esto en mucho de las terapias hace falta un certificado medico antes de empezar y una inspección veterinaria. O a lo mejor los dos participantes no hacen buena pareja y hay que buscar otro animal mas adecuada.
Los animales deben de tener su hábitat y comida lo mas natural posible.
Las granjas escuelas y núcleos zoológicos son divertidos y educacional. También pueden ser sitios para la recuperación de animales dañados.
Perros de asistencia ayudan a los discapacitados físicos, ciegos, sordos, con epilepsia, diabetes y pueden detectar comida que causa alergia en una persona. Todo este tipo de perros están trabajando por todo el mundo ya, y con los mismos derechos que los perros para ciegos.
Animales que van a hospitales y centros de ancianos llevan una toalla para no hacer pipi encima del paciente y están cuidadosamente elegido por su carácter tranquillo. Las personas en carga de los animales dentro y fuera del hospital o centro de ancianos tienen que seguir su trabajo para mantener la higiene y temperamento de los animales.
Trabajando con los caballos es imprescindible que haya un equipo bien formado.
Un curso de fin de semana no es suficiente para que uno empiece a trabajar en estos campos.
Todos estos sitios son buenos lugares para personas que quieran trabajar con animales como voluntarios.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Some New Arrivals

Congratulations to Pepa and Pepe on the birth of Baby Bambi. Here's another baby, Rad, who has joined the menagerie and has taken a fancy to Lenox. Rad is a coatimundi and a cute as a button.

The Smile

Here's Angel with that type of smile that makes life worth living.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A Short Video

We have a short Animo video on YouTube which was made by Daniel. No talking, and the music fits perfectly, because our students are non-verbal.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Handling a Foal

From the day a foal is born you should start handling it. Brushing it, picking up its feet, and playing with its tail and rubbing its back (but never putting weight on it) and touching it all over especially around both the mouth and the feet. Talk to it a lot and use words that you would like it to know as it grows up. It is very important that this is done regularly. If you just leave the baby with mom until it has to be weaned, you will have a struggle with lots of things and get lots of kicks and bites, but if it is handled from a newborn and shown all around, it should start to follow you as it gets older and can leave mom, especially if you have been making sounds or words for it that mean different things. The foal should be introduced to different areas and objects, the type of thing that can scare a horse when it enters a new environment. Water for example, like the hose and a shower if it is warm enough, and puddles are very important because they can be fun for a foal but terrifying for a yearling. With the hose you start by letting the foal drink from it and getting its feet wet then slowly move down the body until he or she is used to getting wet all over. Most horses love the shower. They love to learn tricks and learn them very easily in exchange for a treat or a cuddle. Going in and out of a trailer is very important too as it is very frightening, but if you just leave an open trailer in the paddock with food in it they will start to go in and out by themselves. Then as they grow older they are not afraid to try new things because they have full trust in you. I lived up in the mountains when my filly was young so we had dirt roads and no traffic. That made a great place to get used to thing because there was no danger. If you live in an area where there is traffic and other dangers than the process is made more difficult. I had a sheep, Negrita, who was inseparable from Casi, my foal, for almost twenty years and she would accompany us on our outings along with my calf, Petite Suisse. They would walk with me way up in the mountains, the three of them running and playing with each other. They never had lead ropes on, they just ran free and because I just talked to them all the time, Casi learned to lunge very fast just by me asking her to change direction or pace or even to back up. That is the way I started riding her as well: I could get her to slow down or gallop full speed and of course stop just by asking her. She knew how to shake hands and just naturally followed me. It is a good idea from time to time when it is windy to just let them loose in the riding ring with things like plastic bags and balloons or flags tied to the fence and just leave them there for a while until they aren’t scared of the objects any more. The more experiences they have and the more confidence they have in you the better horse you will have. The only problem I had with this system is that everyone thought Casi was a spoiled brat, and maybe she was, because for the first five years or so she would only respond to me and no one else could ride her let alone get on her. It wasn’t until my girls started to work with her that she became the best horse I ever had. She knew high school dressage, both Spanish and English; she loved to jump and was the best of my nine horses for the disabled. All because of the trust she had in me.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Charlie: Faithful Hound

Charlie is my son’s dog; she is half Greyhound and half Labrador. She is very intelligent and very well behaved. When my dog died a few weeks ago, Charlie knew I was very sad and she has spent a lot of time cuddling with me and following me around. She has become very protective of me and keeps me out of what she thinks is danger which might include a new dog on the property. (Actually, it does! Ed.) She is also very jealous and wants me for herself. Now she sleeps in my room instead of my son’s but he has two other dogs to keep him company. The other night I was working on the computer and she was by my side when all of the sudden she started to cry and paw at my arm. I kept telling her to go lie down but for the first time she wouldn’t listen she just kept persisting. It wasn’t until she started to move in circles and show her teeth and growled that I look to see what was bothering her. A large scolopander had just crossed my slippers and was on his way under the desk. (It’s a kind on huge man-eating centipede Ed) I was so shocked that I didn’t know what to do, but I knew if it got under the desk I could never catch it, so I took a piece of paper and kept moving it to the middle of the room. Meanwhile Charlie was growling and had her hair standing straight up. It was the middle of the night but I started to call to my husband for help because I couldn’t let it escape or it might show up some place else where I wasn’t aware of it and bite me. They are the most poisonous creature we have here in Spain. (Well, after the neighbours. Ed) My husband came quickly but didn’t have his contact lenses in so he couldn’t see it very well, so he went to put them on and to call our son. Between them they captured it (hog-wrestled it. Ed) and took lots of pictures. It was about eight inches long and as wide as my thump (Barbara has a pretty big thump. Ed), with big brown stripes down its yellow body. Once it was caught it started to get really mad and made biting motions so we could see its big fangs. My son now has it in a terrarium and will watch it to learn more about it. In my thirty-five years here I have seen maybe five but they have all been about two or three inches long and yellow.
They can still give you a good bite though which will go sceptic and can be dangerous. So I have to thank Charlie for saving from what could have been a very painful and unpleasant experience. It always amazes me how animals can express themselves when they really need to and I am glad they can because this is not the first time an animal has kept me from harm.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Horse, Foal and Friends

Tina and Barbara spent the day at Albero watching Loli with her amazing animals. Our thanks to Alberto for the photographs.


Here's a cute friend called Princesa who is nibbling on my finger (ouch!) as she shows me how she does her hair. Princesa and her friends live in Almería at a stables called Albero. The horses (and a couple of donkeys and a rather odd ostrich called Bola who lays enormous eggs every now and again) are remarkably well looked after and highly trained. It is a splendid place to visit.
Princesa and her friends' job is to help look after some of the young children who visit as well as the disabled riders while they are waiting for their lessons.

Baby takes a Lesson

In our aviary we have Love Birds of every color and they have lots of babies all year long. They usually find a partner and stay with them for life sharing everything from building the nest to caring for the young. While the mother sits on the eggs the father brings her food and water, then, when the babies have pecked their way out of their eggs, the two parents share the feeding of the little ones. At this time, the babies are rather ugly, with bits of bristle and half-formed feathers on their tiny bodies. When the babies are ready to leave the nest, it is a lot of fun to watch them learn from their parents how to fly and eat and where to find water. They grow and learn very quickly and pretty soon they will find a partner of their own and start their own family. They are called Love Birds because once they find a mate it is for life and they like to do everything together. They are very affectionate and spend all day hugging and kissing and feeding each other. They are so close that if one dies usually within a week or so the other dies of sadness, they almost never find another mate. One day a snake got into a nest box with a mother and four babies. He ate the mother and smothered all but one baby. We had never seen anything like it because, out of character, all the birds in the aviary took turns taking care of the baby. They fed him and tried to coax him out of the nest but he did not want to leave. They started putting his food farther and farther from the entrance of the nest. When they finally got him out on to a branch they all stood in a line and tried to teach him how to use his wings. All synchronized they would stretch one wing and then the other while he watched on. He wanted to stay a baby. It looked like a Jane Fonda exercise class to watch. He would get very angry and stomp his feet and scream but the other birds were persistent. They kept moving closer and closer to the food and water trying to get him to care for himself but it was always another temper tantrum. It took him much longer to learn things than the babies with mothers even though all the birds were helping. He finally grew up and learned to do these things himself and then found a partner and started his own family. Besides being very funny to watch, I wanted to put on Jane Fonda Music for them, it is very unusual for this to happen. The father usually tries to take over both roles and is usually quiet successful, but if the baby hadn’t survived the father probably would have died of heart break. They are beautiful and wonderful birds and much more fun to watch the TV. When they are making their nests they take strips of palm branch and stick them in their wings until they can’t carry any more, they do not carry them in their beaks. They look like pretty colored porcupines. Our aviary runs the length of one side of the house so you can watch them while you clean the kitchen or from the bathroom, or of course, from the garden where you will be joined by some curious sparrows and other birds.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

El Albero

After my talk at the University I met a woman called Loli who owns a nearby riding stables and is starting to be the preferred center for students of psychology and physiotherapy to learn Therapeutic riding. Lenox and I spent a very enjoyable morning with her on Tuesday, looking over her small petting zoo. All the animals were in such good shape and so friendly. Later she gave me the honor of riding her prize white Spanish stallion, and then I got to do some vaulting on Nora. A vaulting horse may never change its tempo no matter what the rider or riders are doing.I just started with basic exercises and now I would love to do it every day. What a wonderful feeling and what great exercise! In the afternoon Loli gave her regular classes and I watched and helped in the therapeutic riding side. We had about five children in all. It was hard to help much without knowing them and their history but I lent a hand and gave a few tips. I think it is a wonderful thing Loli is doing and none of it would be possible if her animals were not so well trained and handled. She had some of the cutest ponies I have ever seen and the children were able to climb all over them and they never budged. I was very impressed with the whole day both professionally and emotionally.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Talk at the University

During my recent speech at the University of Almería on the subject of hippotherapy, part of a larger course on sports therapy for the disabled, I showed a short film made in about 1998 which features a small girl called Sofia who suffered from cerebral palsy. She had no control of her head, arms or body. I always rode behind her to support her and help with her exercises. One of the exercises we would do was to try to get the student to touch the nose, this way he or she could try and find the center of their body. Small children do this automatically while playing, they grasp things in their hands and move it to their mouth, and this is the way they find the center of their body. Sofia was not able to do this exercise so we started by crossing her arms over her tummy, first both arms then one at a time. When she was able to complete this task on her own we worked on touching her nose with both hands together by raising them above her head then down to the nose or from the center of her tummy straight to the nose. Finally she was able to complete this on her own. Another exercise we would do was to hold both of her upper arms and lean way back then lift her shoulders while sitting up into a straight position for her (I was still leaning fairly back, if I sat straight up she would be leaning forward and not learn the feeling of sitting upright and the weight of her head would drop down rounding her whole back and neck). This type of sit-up doesn’t only help them find their center, it also strengthens their neck and back muscles.
A man in the university audience asked me what benefit someone with no possibility to ever walk or do anything for herself would get from these exercises. I was glad he asked this because it helps show the difference between hippotherapy and other types of riding for the disabled. In hippotherapy the student almost never learns to ride but gets the benefit to their health from the exercises on a moving horse I explained that touching the nose may someday help her hold a cup or feed herself. During the other exercises, she was being stretched up, finding what was her center and opening and strengthening the chest so she could breath more easily, during the whole time she was doing these exercises on the horse at a walk she was receiving a massage to her muscles and organs, her circulation was made to work harder sending more blood to her extremities, brain and heart and her digestive system was working on its own. After each class she would be put face-down with her belly over the horse and be walked around for a few minutes while one of the side-walkers would pat her back with a cupped hand to remove fluid from the lungs. People in wheelchairs are unable to remove the liquid the way we do by just walking around.
Sofia is a very intelligent girl and very interested in ecology. She can’t speak but she says a lot with her facial expressions. At the end of these vigorous exercises we take a walk out in the country and go places she can’t go in her wheelchair so she gets to enjoy nature that is usually not available to her.
Here is a photograph of the plaque they gave me for my contribution in the field of hippotherapy and I am writing a chapter in their book on the subject because very little literature on this exists in Spanish. I am also planning on being their liaison between the international groups and new groups starting in Spain. They would like to start encouraging more conferences. Now that the medical community is taking an interest in the findings of the benefits of riding we might start making advances in studies and investigations.

Durante mi ponencia en La Universidad de Almería sobre La Hipoterapia, he enseñado una pequeña película con una niña con parálisis cerebral. Sofía no tiene control del tronco ni de sus brazos ó su cabeza. Yo montaba detrás de ella para dar suporte y mantener su posición. Unos de los ejercicios que hemos hecho eran intentar tocar la nariz, para que ella pudiera encontrar su centro. Niños pequeños lo hace mientras que están jugando sin saber que están aprendiendo algo: todo se pone entre las dos manos y lo suben a la boca. Sofía no era capaz de cumplir este ejercicio, entonces hemos empezada cruzando sus brazos por la barriga, los dos brazos juntos hasta cuando lo ha logrado y después un lado tras otra. Una vez que lo había conseguido por si misma, hemos intentado tocar la nariz con las dos manos juntas. Al final ha conseguido hacerlo sola. Los otros ejercicios eran coger sus hombros y casi tumbada, subir nosotros y yo levantando sus brazos por arriba, y volver a tumbarnos. Solo hemos subido hasta que ella encontraba que era recto, yo todavía estaba bastante tumbada. Si hemos llegado hasta que yo estaba recta ella seria inclinada hacia delante y no puede suportar el peso de su cabeza y tampoco podía aprender donde esta la postura recta. Hemos repetido este ejercicio muchas veces.
Este forma de “abdominales” no solo la ayuda encontrarse recta pero también dar fuerza a los músculos de la espalda y cuello.
Un señor me preguntaba que beneficio tiene todo aquello para una niña que no puede hacer nada por si misma. Estuve contenta para recibir esta pregunta ya que demuestra la diferencia entre la hipoterapia y otros tipos de equinoterapias. En la primera, el jinete casi nunca aprende lo que es "montar a caballo" en sí, pero sí saque el beneficio fisiológico de estar sentado en un caballo andando. He explicado que el ejercicio de tocar la nariz es para que un día al lo mejor podría poner un vaso a su boca o comer por si misma. Durante los otros ejercicios, ella estaba encontrando el centro de su cuerpo, cuando su cuerpo estaba estirada durante el ejercicio, su pecho abría para tener mejor respiración, durante todo el tiempo que el caballo estaba andando, ella estaba recibiendo un masaje a sus músculos y órganos, un efecto así como recibimos cuando nosotros estamos paseando, su sistema digestiva estaba funcionando y su sistema circulatorio tenia que trabajar para irrigar sus extremidades, su cerebro, corazón y el resto de su cuerpo. Ellos no pueden hacer esto en silla de ruedas ni tumbada. Después de la clase, ella hacia “jinete muerto” donde colgaba boca-abajo con su barriga encima del lomo del caballo mientras que uno de los laterales la pegue en la espalda con mano hueca. No la pega fuerte solo bastante para quitar el liquido que se acumula en los pulmones que ellos mismos no pueden evacuar. Sofía es una niña muy inteligente y con mucho interés en ecología. No puede hablar pero su cara dice mucho. Después de la clase fuerte hacemos un paseo por el campo donde ella pude ver cosas que son inaccesibles a ella desde su silla.
Aquí hay una foto de la placa que me regalaron por mi trabajo y voy a hacer un capitulo en su libro sobre este tema. Voy a intentar ser el enlace entre los grupos internacionales y los grupos empezando aquí en España. Ya por que el mundo medico está cogiendo interés en los beneficios que el caballo puede dar, a lo mejor podemos empezar a tener estudios e investigaciones sobre los beneficios.