Horses are mirrors – showing you things about yourself before you even realise it. Which is why, although less common in Singapore, Equine-Assisted Therapy is so beneficial in so many ways.
Officially launched in September 2016, Therapeutic And Educational Riding In Singapore (THERIS) was conceptualised out of a love for the intimate relationships that develop between horse and individual.
As Singapore’s first and only privately-owned equine-assisted therapy option, we chat with the brains and beauty behind THERIS, and delve into how it is “More Than Just A Ride”.
Hong Kong-born and Singapore-raised Jessamine Ihrcke Dorsey (Jessie) is the Founder and Facilitator of THERIS. She’s the one who individually tailors sessions to fit the specific needs of each of those looking to begin therapy.
Therapy horse, Desiree (Dessie) makes up the other half of the THERIS team, bringing her riders forward, on a journey of self-discovery. Working towards small victories, the duo always allow for time to expand and deconstruct situations – even when it’s seemingly negative.
Jessie strongly believes in the importance of one-on-one sessions. This allows for behaviour, issues and emotions to be addressed on the spot, within the session.
“I’d go with a maximum of two in a session,” says Jessie. “I know what it’s like to want to work on one kid’s needs but then you can’t, because there’re three others having a meltdown and two putting sand into their mouth.”
“You just can’t – and that’s a moment you miss out on.”
Pictured above is M, who has been riding with Jessie for almost a year now. Jessie has watched him make great improvements since he first started therapeutic riding, and shares a little bit about their journey together.
What was it like for M at the beginning?
“Oh he was really fearful – he absolutely loved animals but sitting on top of Dessie and getting her to walk was just a huge sensory overload for him. But now, every time he gets on he’s really happy, he sits balanced and he is able to concentrate for really long periods of time.”
What kind of people come to ride with you now? And are there any pre-requisites?
“We’ve got young children, but the program isn’t just specifically for kids. Some have Special Needs, intellectual or physical disabilities or social-emotional issues.
At the moment, the only pre-requisite is needing to be less than 65kg if you’re riding – we wouldn’t want to hurt Dessie! There’s no need for special equipment, an affinity towards horses and animals, or any prior experience at all.”
Starting horse therapy at THERIS begins with an assessment to gauge ability. This could mean just standing next to Dessie, or observing the length of time required to become capable of sitting up unassisted.
Jessie then draws up a ten-week program plan that caters to meeting the short-term and long-term goals that’s been set, together.
A 45-minute session first starts with grooming Dessie and tacking her. This means making sure she is combed and brushed clean, with her hooves cleaned out with a hoof-pick, before putting on her bridle and her saddle.
This is a huge part of relationship development.
Here, you get to know a different side of Dessie. It’s where you build trust with each other, and get close enough to learn how to read her better.
Speaking from personal experience, horses provide the best opportunities to learn social cues, understand the importance of personal space, and to fully comprehend the idea that respect is something you have to earn and cannot demand or forcefully take.
Like any riding lesson, Jessie – who has been a riding instructor both in the riding school and at Riding For The Disabled Singapore – teaches you how to sit, steer and might even take you out on hacks, which is where you get to ride Dessie for some light exercise.
Considering the sights you get to take in up at Bukit Timah, hacking with the THERIS ladies is therapeutic enough to make anyone forget the concrete jungle we’re so used to.
So if the public riding school teaches the stuff that you would, like learning to trot and canter, what’s the difference between a regular riding lesson and coming here?
“Good question! I’ve asked that myself, and you probably could go to a public riding school and pay the same amount, if not a little bit more, just to learn to ride.
At first, one might not see the difference. But, it is through the games, activities and exercises while participants learn riding, that skills are developed. Also because the process can bring issues up, where they can then be addressed and handled, together.
These skills are easily transferrable and applicable everywhere else outside of riding and the stables!”
“I know equestrian, horses and riding is often associated with people ‘up there’. But I want THERIS and horse therapy to be more accessible than that. I want people in the community to know that they can pick this up too.
It’s no different from, say, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) or any kind of therapy really.”
So there you have it folks, straight from the horse’s mouth.
THERIS provides a therapy option that welcomes anyone ready, and willing to be honest with themselves. Above all, one of the best lessons I’ve learnt from horses is realising that it’s okay to just come as you are, without pretense, because this is a safe place to just be.
Together with a large bowl of determination, cups of carrots, and maybe extra large tablespoons of support, THERIS is ready to be served, hot.
Price: Available upon request
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