Friday, February 26, 2010

Animo on YouTube

This is a little example of how to prepare a horse for therapeutic riding and a few exercises done by some of our disabled students. The service dogs are from England and show a few ways in which dogs can help us. There are so many different aspects and benefits from Animal Assisted Therapy. The video comes from various sessions held in Mojácar in the late nineties and start with ‘warm-up exercises’ with our kids helping out. Later we see several students, a doctor who wanted to see the effects of hippotherapy for himself, several side-walkers and leaders and our ramp. There’s just music accompaniment here as Amber was using this for a seminar she gave in 2004. The last bit is to do with handi-dogs and comes from a colleague in England.
While this video is no great shakes, we did win a prize with another one – and when we can locate a decent copy, we’ll post it on YouTube as well.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Therapeutic Riding

(From the archives)

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 ( 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.


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.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Animal Assisted Therapy

In April I am offering a course at the University of Almería and helping them write a book in Spanish on the benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy. This field has been very slow starting in Spain but has now become very popular and I felt that there were a few basic guides I could provide from my years of experience. ANIMO does not offer its practical side anymore but we still give technical advice to other centers.

It is a privilege to have or to ride a horse. The horse is a very strong and majestic animal but at the same time very delicate. Just a simple change in their food can cause colic, which can be fatal or leave them foundered. Foundering comes from changing food like from dry food to being put in a lush pasture and it separates the soft part of the hoof from the hard part. This makes the horse walk on his heels because of the severe pain. They then begin to use the wrong muscles to compensate. Unless cared for properly and promptly, it can take years to improve or it may never get better and the horse will always have a limp. So there are many things to think about before you buy a horse. They need good clean food, clean housing and good hygiene, lots of exercise, a turn-out area and most of all lots of love and attention. All of this comes at a price both financial and in time. It is not cheap to have a horse or even to go to classes. However the benefits of riding a horse are so great and every day they are discovering new benefits that the horse can offer us. For this reason it is important that we continue the research and make horses more accessible to everyone. Not only the disabled, where we already know about the benefits, but to everyone. Even medical doctors are starting to study different aspects of the horse-man relationship.

The benefits that animals can provide people have been known for a long time. Just stroking a cat can relieve the pain of arthritis and help relieve stress or riding a horse improves your circulation while at the same time massaging your organs and muscles. There have been very few studies on the benefit riding a horse can have on depression, stress and the menopause. I did a small informal test using my volunteers. We found that out of twenty women, in every case a noticeable difference was made. They all felt less depressed, had more energy and basically just felt happier. I just read a new medical study on the benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy and mentioned in the article was a section on how riding can lower your level of triglycerides. Triglycerides change fat into energy for your muscles. I found out the positive results from my own case just recently. I rode every day for three weeks and my triglyceride level dropped by half. Two-hundred is the top level in a healthy human being and my level was over four-hundred. After riding every day for three weeks it dropped to close to two-hundred, other blood work improved as well.

After working with all types of disabilities and many different types of animal therapy, I decided to concentrate mostly on hippotherapy, which is the medical side of riding therapy. I saw such a change in the students not just physical but mental. It is basically physiotherapy on horse-back, letting the movement of the horse work on areas that the disabled person is not able to achieve in any other way. It is also something that should be included in their regular therapy not done instead of.

Every country and every center have their own methods of working and training the staff and animals. Hippotherapy is different just like styles of riding are different. In our center we had the students ride bare-back. We felt that we got better results from the direct contact or sometimes we used a sheep-skin to help keep students from getting burns or wounds which in some students never heal and can even lead to amputation. That is why it is so important to have a medical certificate before the student ever even goes near the horse and why the classes usually start at around five minutes and work up to around forty-five minutes. There are specially designed saddles with movable parts to help support different parts of the body but we found over all that bareback was the best for our students. Only three of our forty students ever used a bridle and that was because they had enough body control to do so. We usually used a halter and lead line. My grand daughter says riding bare-back helps keep your bottom warm and she is right. We used so many different positions on the horse that a saddle would have just been in the way. We had students facing all different directions, lying down, walking barefoot while the horse was at a walk and around the world just to name a few. Most of our students had such severe physical disabilities that they needed some one to back-ride in order to hold them in the correct position and help them with their exercises. It is very important that your team is experienced with horses because even something as simple as leading wrong can change the whole muscular system of the horse there by not conveying the correct message to the brain and body of the rider. It is important that you try to use both sides of the horse equally. We had one student, a young adult left partially paralysed from a motor-cycle accident who always leant to one side, so we would try and put a cute young helper on his bad side to try and get him to use it more. It was quite an effective strategy. During a session the work is very slow and boring for the horse making figures of eight and serpentines and little circles. After several students the horse may become bored and start acting up a bit this is why it is very important that before each class the horse has a good work-out or gallop in the country-side.

The words that we use in this field change from country to country, and depend on the time for what words are politically correct. It is incorrect now to say that you use an animal for a task because in some countries this signifies mistreatment, you have to say incorporate the animal in the task. I think the correct term for your students, regardless of their disability, is ‘challenged’. They may be visually, physically or mentally challenged etc. Or some times they are referred to as ‘special needs students’. These two expressions seem to cover everyone without offering any offence.

The Center:
If you are planning on starting a center there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
1. Have a good insurance policy that covers the animals as well as students and helpers.
2. Have all parents sign a waver allowing the use of any photographs or videos.
3. Get a complete medical history and have a medical exam before beginning class.
4. Have healthy sound animals.
5. Make sure the center is wheel-chair accessible and that there is a bathroom. All students should ride on an empty bladder. This is very important.
6. Decide on the type of center you want to have and the type of student you want to teach.
7. Where will you get your financing, as this is an expensive consideration.
8. Staff: Physiotherapist, doctor, riding instructor, veterinarian, stable hands and aides.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Here's a song which sums up my love for animals and children. It's called Sympathy and was recorded by Rare Bird. Lenox sings it sometimes.
Sam Cooke with Summertime
Jean-Jaques Goldman with Comme Toi
Malicorne with L'Écolier Assassin
Here's Khaled with Chebba Cheb
Celtas Cortos with Odin
El Koala says he's going to build a shed - Opá, yo viazé un corrá
The Horseflies play Hush Little Baby
Carmina Burana O Fortuna
Carmen's Factory Fight
Sad Song from Richard Marx
Nobody Knows with Paul Brady
From Oliver 'Be Back Soon'
Love Song with Randy Newman
Warren Zevon

Some of these are songs that Lenox would sing to me when I was in the hospital or feeling down the rest are some of my favorites. Carmina Burana my father used to play every Sunday, and for El Koala you really need to be Andaluz to understand it but he is very funny. The reason I put things like Sympathy on here is because Lenox can sing them so much better than the versions you hear that it makes my hair stand on end.

(Sorry Darling, I've added one of mine here: Abdullah Ibrahim and Carlos Ward).

Saturday, February 13, 2010


This is my ANIMO logo. I thought you might be interested in how it came about. ANIMO -Asociación Nacional de Investigación Mojácar. We had a contest of my disabled students to come up with a logo and got lots of suggestions. Animo in Spanish also means to caress, love, encourage and animate someone so we felt it was appropriate; we just had to come up with the right words to spell ANIMO.
The word-design was eventually made by Lenox, on the spur of the moment at the lawyer's office, when he turned the letter 'a' into a wheelchair. Because it dealt with Animal Assisted Therapy, especially dogs and horses, we wanted them to show. The little man in the middle is the symbol of our town, the Indalo. It is a god holding up a rainbow, or so they say, and was found in a cave painting near here. The horse-shoe is upside down for most of you but that is because here in Spain they believe that the horse-shoe should go that way because it takes the luck from the ground and then returns it, as opposed to the way we think that if it goes the other way the luck will stay in. There are seven studs in the shoe which is very important for the Spaniards. All horse-shoes should have seven holes for luck. I am very pleased with the logo and it has served us well. I don't think anything else could visually describe what we did and how we felt as well as this. 'Animo' - as in 'cheer up!' - is one of the most common words that I heard when I was in the hospital. Everyone from the janitor to the doctors would say 'animo' when I went for operations or tests or anywhere.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Chicken Luck

Most Animal Stories Have Sad Endings:

It is true that a lot of animal stories have tragic endings so I try not to include many of them but there are a few that stand out both as sad and happy. One day I was given twelve laying hens in a row of wire cages where the eggs just rolled down a slope into a tray. There were two hens in each box, not really even big enough for one hen. They had had their beaks and nails cut off so they couldn’t hurt each other. As pleased as I was with the gift I couldn’t bear to see them confined this way, having never experienced scratching in the dirt or stretching their wings. The row of cages was put into my large bird pen where we had once had ducks and turkeys and birds of all kinds. It was my favourite spot on the property, full of trees with a pond and waterfall and birds of all kinds mixing with the exotic plants. I even had a hammock hanging between two trees so I could just lay there and ponder. Several times the fox got in and killed most of the birds and the few remaining birds went into the peacock aviary. We cemented under the fence, filled any holes and made it fox-proof. I didn’t get any more birds because the whole place just didn’t have the same magic about it. It was a few years later when these hens arrived and we hadn’t seen a fox in years. After a few weeks of feeling sorry for the chickens I decided to let them out into the real world. They were stunned. They didn’t know what to do or where to go so they just followed me everywhere. Little by little they started to stretch their cropped wings, scratch with their cut nails and pick at things with their beaks. They were truly in heaven. I was so pleased at having finally let them go, as I watched them try out and learn what the world was about. It was so funny that I stayed there most of the day. Some of the hens even tried a dirt bath. When I finally came into the house, I spent hours telling Lenox how wonderful it was to see them free and having room to move and about how funny they all were as they tried new things. I was very pleased with myself until the next morning when I went out to feed them and found that a fox had killed all twelve without even taking one to eat. I was so devastated that all I could say was “well at least they had one great day of freedom”. The poor things - they had no wings to speak of and certainly didn’t know how to use what they had or some could have flown up into the trees to get away.
After another fox attack, even more devastating, the only bird left was a guinea-fowl, she was the sole survivor of a fox attack that killed over twenty birds. We called her a Jeannie-bird because of the awful noise she made and she lived right under our alcoholic neighbour Jeannie’s bedroom window. We put her in with the peacocks, which lived in a large aviary, to see if she could survive. Not only did she survive but she flourished. Peacocks, like turkeys, aren’t very smart and often kill their young by accident or maybe a male kills them. Once our Jeannie-bird moved in that was no more. She took mothering very seriously. The chicks all ate before the peacocks, they were kept gathered in her clutches and in general she cared for every baby in the aviary. After the fox problem was solved by not having any more birds out, the neighbour’s dogs took a shine to checking us out from time to time and killing anything they could. We had two wonderful chickens that we kept in the garden, known to us as Scrambled and Poached, that we put away every night so they would be safe, but unlike the fox, dogs in packs don’t care whether it is day or night and they raided and killed our two chickens. We finally realized that if we wanted a chicken the only way was to let it out in the garden when we were there and put it in the aviary when we weren’t. Prunella was our chicken and you have seen her in pictures on this blog. She was a delight. One day a friend came with her dog that jumped out of the car and attacked Prunella right under our noses. She didn’t look like she had a chance for survival so the contrite dog owner left and rushed back a few hours later with another hen to replace her. You can’t just replace one pet with another that looks the same, they all have special qualities and Prunella was a cracker. Remarkably, Prunella did survive the attack and her new friend is called Henrietta. They both lay eggs and wander the garden with our dogs for protection during the day. They are very good gardeners by the way, scratching at the ground and pecking at bugs and weeds. They are put away when we go out and at night.
But animal stories often have sad endings. The pack of dogs came back down a few days ago during lunch time and they took poor Prunella from us. Now Henrietta lives alone, she still lays two eggs a day and spends most of her time in an aviary and at night in her coop. We don’t want to lose her because I don’t think I have much luck with chickens.

I love rabbits and we have had many, large Angora, miniatures, country and pet shop leftovers; most however came from farmers that raised them to eat and usually let me take one or two home out of sympathy. Even though we vaccinated, a horrible man-made disease called myxomatosis took several of our rabbits.
The miniature travelled with Jessica everywhere even in her pocket on the airplanes coming and going to school. The enormous white Angora was free to live in the house, sleep in bed with the girls and basically live like one of the family. Most people don’t know but rabbits are very easy to house-break. All you do is put down a kitty-litter box and they will use it. Our Angora lived inside for many years until she had finally nibbled on too many wires for us to put up with, like the telephone wire and the cables to the lights, so we decided to move her outside to a run we set up just outside the front door so that we could still spend lots of time with her. Even though vaccinated she got myxomatosis from being on the ground where they pick up the disease from wild animals. So my next two rabbits were not going to have that happen to them. I had a huge cage built up off the ground and put fresh straw in every day so they would stay clean and away from the ground and any contact with wild bunnies. It turns out that straw carries the disease so I lost them too. Nowadays, from bitter experience, I am much more knowledgeable about rabbits. Several years back, while in Pamplona, I was allowed a hospital rabbit. His story is on this blog so I won’t go into the details but I can tell you that he has outlived just about any other rabbit: he is a family favourite who lives in an elevated run just outside the kitchen door so we can talk to and play with him all the time and he uses newspaper as bedding. His potty corner is always The Euro Weekly, a local freebie without much merit. So rabbits can be great pets, don’t under-estimate them, they are very smart and affectionate and if well cared for can live a long time. This story is dedicated to the memory of Pepe, a rabbit friend of ours, who lived with a little girl in Madrid and was the biggest rabbit we’ve ever seen, well at least his ears were huge and he was like a puppy, always scratching at the door and wanting to come sit on your lap and watch the telly. I am sorry to say that he got too fat for his breed and is no more. All of my grandchildren call rabbits ‘Pepe’ so when they see one on the road or in the country they say “look, there goes Pepe”. I don’t have the heart to tell them he is gone.

When we left America for England I had to leave my sheep behind. I was so distraught that shortly upon arrival my parents bought me an apricot miniature poodle called Chaussette. It wasn’t the same but it helped. Chaussette had a wicker basket and everywhere we moved the first thing unloaded from the truck was her bed, then she felt safe and at home because we moved almost every year. She was a feisty little thing, I remember my father taking a fire poker to her in the hall because she wouldn’t take her food outside and no-one could touch her. I had her from early childhood through university. I don’t think I remembered life without her. One day I came home from work and she was having a nervous break-down in the driveway. Then I saw it. The neighbor’s puppy had stolen her bed and eaten most of it. She died a few days later. I know it is a sad story but she had the longest happiest life of any dog I know, and this is a section about how most animal stories have a sad ending.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Girl with a Bunny

Here's a picture from our ANIMO days that I hope shows the joy that animals can bring, especially to a little girl with cerebral palsy.

This and related photographs have written permission from the parents or guardians to be used on this blog for the promotion of animal assisted therapy. They are not to be copied or reproduced.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Spiders and Insects

Spiders have a head and an abdomen with eight legs, while an insect has a head, thorax and abdomen with six legs. My husband has always been fascinated by bugs of all types and knows most everything about them. He has tried to pass this passion on to our children. Daniel caught on at a very early age and he and his father would spend hours in the garden looking at bugs. Daniel has maintained his interest and increased his understanding of these creepy-crawlies. He and his father still show each other bugs they have found. I use the word bugs so that I don’t have to keep differentiating between spiders and insects. When Daniel was in his twos he could tell the difference between a good spider and a bad one. We found this out one night when he came into our room, late at night, to tell us there was a bad bug under his bed. We were sure it was a Wolf Spider; they are very ugly and hairy but harmless. We went to look and sure enough he had a tarantula under his bed. How he knew the difference I will never know. When Lenox didn’t know what the bug was he would give it a name and it sounded very real and are called that to this day. Like one the girls found upside-down in the ash tray and asked daddy what it was, he said, without hesitation, that it was an ash bug and so it became. Lenox has named several bugs here one of his favourites he says reminds him of me. It is the golden splendour beetle. When you touch it, it lets out a shriek, rolls over on its back and puts its legs in the air. I have no idea how that reminds him of me or what the beetle is really called.
I don’t know if they have them everywhere but here we have stink bugs. They look like little beetles and come in three fragrances, pine, lemon and shit. This keeps any predator from eating more than one, so by preserving the species.
I can take bugs or leave them as long as they aren’t in my bedroom. Living in the country it is inevitable that you will get bugs in the house. That is one of the great things about Geckos because they eat the bugs, until the little lizards get so fat that the stickers on their feet don’t work so well and they fall to the floor or onto the bed. They also shit like birds and it is very hard to clean. Geckos usually hide behind pictures or mirrors, and make a little screech noise during mating season. They are considered good luck to have in your house here in Spain. It even used to be the custom to bring a gecko to a house- warming to start the house on the right foot. Whenever I see a spider I ask my son or husband to please release it into the garden, which they do while having a long discussion on the wonders of the thing. My husband has a thing about mothers. A mother spider will carry hundreds of babies on her back until they are ready to go out on their own. Lenox has a strong feeling that they should be left alone until such time but all I can think about are the hundreds of new spiders I will have in my room.
Our daughter, Amber, suffers from severe arachnophobia. If she sees a spider, she becomes hysterical, can’t breath and has an instant panic attack. Insects don’t bother her so much. Our house is so big that the children lived on one side and we live on the other. One night she saw a spider. It was in her room, in the corner of the ceiling and she had a panic attack. She was screaming for an hour or so and couldn’t breathe. We couldn’t hear her. Finally she screwed up the courage to slide passed the spider and run to our room for comfort. Before we could comfort her we had to slap her a few time to get her to breathe and then came the cuddles. She said she had been screaming and crying for hours and why hadn’t we come to rescue her. We just hadn’t heard her. Our other daughter Jessica can take them or leave them. They don’t bother her but she has no real interest in them. She will however gladly move one outside for you.
When we first lived here there were always hundreds of different bugs hanging around the front door by the light at night. Lenox would spend ages examining each one. Now they have mostly all gone away and we just have flies and mosquitoes.
Scorpions are still about in abundance and they belong to the spider family or arachnids. They can give you a very nasty sting. Most people I know here have had that experience once or twice. You actually are a bit of an outcast if you are a country person and haven’t had your scorpion sting yet.
Don't worry about this beetle, he's from the Amazon. Cute, isn't he?