Today’s post is a combination of speech-language pathology and equine activities. Let’s talk about safety awareness in the therapy world first.
Through the speech pathologist lens, safety awareness comes down to how a person communicates in an unsafe situation. Does the individual know their address? A phone number? Can they communicate their name? Do they know their caregivers name? This may mean working on specific words, sounds, or scripts for client. It also could mean getting an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device and/or wearing a bracelet that has pertinent information on it. Occupational therapists (OTs) also work on safety awareness and help clients recognize a behavior that is safe or unsafe.
Safety awareness is important in daily life. Is a child safe to climb on a playground? Can a teenager walk to the store and home? Can an adult cross the street independently? Safety awareness requires executive functioning, spatial orientation, and body awareness. The horse can help address all three of these areas. Here’s some examples of how I would address safety awareness with a horse.
Body awareness: This can be done on the ground or mounted. Ask the client to stretch both arms to the sky, touch their toes, reach the left arm forward then the right arm. If the client follows these instructions correctly, it gives a good indication that they are aware of their body. Demonstrate how the horse shows body awareness. Horses always know what their body is doing and where it is. A light touch on a horse’s neck or rump could garner a response of a skin twitch. Watch a horse pick its way through an obstacle course and observe how the horse steps over poles or around a barrel without running into it.
Spatial orientation: Start by observing the horses in a herd, if possible. Are the horses close together or far apart? If they can’t be in a herd, lead two horses side by side and observe how they walk beside one another. Horses will naturally be physically closer to horses they get along with better. They will move their bodies away from discomfort (e.g., from an alpha horse) and toward comfort (e.g., a calm horse or person). Again, use an obstacle course and this time observe how the horse keeps space between itself and objects. Discuss how the horse is constantly paying attention to its surroundings through its ears, nose, and eyes. Ask clients to move into and out of the horse’s space (or a person’s). Ask client to stand on one foot, hop, jump, or bounce from one foot to the next. Can the client walk around an obstacle without hitting it? Can the client maintain balance while riding in a straight line, on a bend, and around a circle?
Executive functioning: I will revisit this topic a lot, but for now I’m just going to address executive functioning in regards to safety awareness. There are many pieces to executive functioning, but some of the main skills involved in safety awareness are impulse control and self-regulation. Horses, by nature, require impulse control. You cannot run up to a horse or start yelling or make sudden movements without getting a reaction from a horse. That immediate biofeedback is an important piece of learning how to self-regulate.
Barns also have safety measures that are necessary to adhere to in order to participate in anything involving horses. Wearing closed toe shoes, wearing a helmet, not running, and not shouting are pretty typical barn rules that instill impulse control.
Questions? Thoughts? Leave it below!
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