The Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran
Employing the Clicker System
ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran’s exceptional therapeutic horseback riding program, providing rehabilitative treatment for village residents, special education school students and people from surrounding Negev communities, stands unique among similar horse-therapy programs in Israel.
The safari center’s approach is unique in the therapeutic methods implemented in the horse-training system, which provides patients with fertile ground for emotional, communication, motor and multi-sensory experiences. The open, therapeutic expanse enables maximum expression of the patient’s potential, based on the belief that therapy emanating from inner motivation is the most effective way to trigger profound and significant change among participants.
Treatment of the safari horses is also aimed at creating inner motivation, based on positive reinforcement and use of free force, via the Clicker Training System – a modern training method presently gaining momentum in the world of animal instruction. Clicker Training is a humanitarian method of education and training based on knowledge and research in the fields of behavior science and animal ethology, during which the trainer asks the horse to perform a certain action using a Code Clicker. When the horse complies, the trainer clicks with the clicker, following with a positive reinforcement (food). The horse comes to enjoy working with the trainer and resident and exhibits positive behavior, creating an interaction on the ground.
The act of forging a connection between the patient, the caregiver and the horse is the cornerstone of the village’s horseback riding therapy system. Creating and maintaining a relationship with the horse includes working within the horse’s natural habitat, interacting with the horse on the ground, watching, feeding, caring for, and playing with the horse, taking the horse for a walk, training and more. The wide range of possibilities for joint activity with the horse enables a wide range of appropriate solutions for people with varied abilities, including village residents with complex issues, as well as patients with communication disabilities, children with emotional issues and more.
In this unique system, interaction between horse and caregiver creates foundations of empathy in the child, teaching the child to see the other’s needs, to cooperate, guard personal space, understand social situations and express emotions. Additionally, interacting with the horse helps improve general cognitive abilities, neatness and organization, space orientation, motor ability and physical strength. Sessions are directed towards these therapeutic goals.
As children cope with challenges and fears, feelings of frustration, happiness, pleasure, success, well-being and excitement while interacting with horses in the safari setting, we witness amazing processes occurring within, sprouting positive change and behavior modification.
Therapeutic sessions in the safari include:
- Private and group sessions based on therapeutic goals for village residents and special education school students.
- Therapeutic treatments based on school-set goals for special education school students, for the most part, a weekly group session of 45-minute duration, divided according to class. The main object of these meetings are group-oriented goals, performing ground work with the horse while simultaneously addressing individual goals.
- Private lessons or health fund referrals are available to residents of the surrounding communities and students at the village school. Private lessons are weekly, half-hour sessions. Work focuses on therapeutic goals mainly based on intake from meetings with parents.
- Children and young adults wanting to learn more and deepen their knowledge about the horses’ world via the safari’s accepted work method can join communication sessions with horses based on Clicker Training. Classes take place in small groups of 4-6.
- Enrichment activities for the community at large offer projects, workshops, courses and meetings focused on communicating with the horses and experiential educational activity. Emphasis is put on creating a dialogue with the horse. The safari is part of the “ALEH in the Community” project in which students from special education schools throughout the area take part in special activity days at the village.
Every Thursday, Or, a Shahar House resident, comes to the corrals for horseback riding therapy. The encounter between Or and the horse is very emotional. Since Or is unable to express himself verbally, we try to understand how he feels and what he is experiencing through his body language – if something is pleasant for him, if he’s happy, if something is difficult or if he is frustrated. During sessions, Or uses a verbal output system, enabling him to express his desire for contact with Kesem the pony. We recorded the words, “Come, Kesem”, into the verbal output, and every time Or wants Kesem to come closer he pushes the switch.
Sarita, a Noga House resident, underwent a unique transition during her three years of horse therapy. In the beginning, Sarita did not connect to the horses or corral activity at all, but after a few months, she began saying “Chico” (little one) during sessions. When the small pony Yasmin was brought to her, Sarita showed clear signs of happiness and excitement. A special bond developed between Sarita and Yasmin, and even from a distance, before reaching the corrals, Sarita now calls out “Ola” (hello).
The right to choose and express emotions is something fundamental and important to which everyone is entitled. Our mission is to find ways in which each resident can express his thoughts and preferences.
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