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