Creating an Equine Barn Buddy Program

AnnaandKathy

Cathy Languerand is a ROTH Instructor who also is the Program Director at Shepard Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center, Inc.  This is a wonderful system that all equine facilities and programs with active volunteers can benefit from.

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Shepard Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center, Inc.
Bristol, Connecticut
December 2, 2014

The Barn Buddy Program connects an active volunteer who is familiar with the horses and has competent and independent horse handling skills with one of our therapy horses for a weekly commitment. During this time the volunteer will spend quality time with their barn buddy. This quality time will include grooming, using a refined healing touch, hand walking, ground work and play time ( depending on volunteer skill level).
These sessions are a commitment that goes on our daily schedule. I find that the horses are looking for touch, attention, and a special connection with a familiar person. This program builds a group of volunteers that want to commit to creating a special connection with an individual horse. This quality time will deepen their knowledge of their barn buddy’s individual likes and dislikes so that the horse’s individual needs are more completely nurtured.
During these activities the volunteers practice “mindfulness”. This “mindfulness” is a refinement of our communication skills with horses. It includes; asking permission before approaching or touching the horse, reading the horse’s acknowledgment, and thanking your horse in a way that he understands. This is accomplished through body language.
Mindfulness starts with assessing the environment and noticing safety hazards or anything causing the horse stress. Checking with the horse to see where he prefers to be groomed. Cross ties in an isle are not always the most comfortable place for the horse. Other factors might include leaving the herd, time of day, weather, and health of the horse. The volunteer will need information from the staff about the needs of their barn buddy. This information might include; is the horse on stall rest, any behavior issues at feeding time, prefers the company of another horse.
Touch can be refined in the following ways; by imitating mutual grooming, noticing amount of pressure the horse likes when touched. I use a scale of 1-10, one being lightest touch possible, ten being as hard as you can press. Using mindfulness to notice where on his body he likes light rubbing and where he like a deeper touch. Notice if he prefers just your hand, a soft brush, or a hard brush. Try a warm towel and a massaging tool to refine your touch.
In the end know how your ‘touch’ created a benefit to your barn buddy. Was your touch relaxing? What was your horse’s breathing like while you were working on his body? What signs did he show you that he relaxed? Did he lower his heads, relax his lip, soften his eye, lick and chew, yawn, or let out a big breath?
At the end of your time be mindful of what your barn buddy liked the best and what he liked the least. Remember that every individual will be different. This is a time to celebrate the differences and give one on one attention. Be mindful that while creating a benefit for your barn buddy, you are also creating a benefit for your self. Always end your time by giving thanks.
Enjoy,
Cathy Languerand
Program Director SMTRC

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