The (therapeutic) power of animals

By Laura TomassiniLex KlerenMisch Pautsch Switch to German for original article

Sometimes the therapist has to be furry, as the success of animal-assisted therapies shows. The fact that dogs, horses, donkeys, guinea pigs and so on often take on the role of mediators does not change the fact that without them, some patients would not be where they are today.

Sometimes a loyal look, a soft sniff or the feeling of soft fur is enough: The blood pressure drops, the mind becomes calmer and many worries seem to be forgotten at least for a moment. Animals are not only popular companions in everyday life, but also four-legged counsellors who can alleviate the human suffering through their mere presence. The knowledge of the effect of an animal on the entire human organism has for years been the cornerstone of alternative treatment options, which commonly fall under the term pet therapies.

Luxembourg is also leisurely becoming aware of this successes because animals can be used in many ways as assistants during therapy sessions. In Mondercange, the furry helpers have been busy for almost 40 years. A total of 14 horses are available at the Association Thérapie Equestre (A.T.E.) to support especially children and young people with physical or mental disabilities in their treatment. Jasman, Donnie, Turbo, Jolly Jumper and co. are true professionals in hippotherapy as well as in therapeutic riding and vaulting (exercises on the horse running in circles) and remedial riding.

Occupational therapy on the horse

The team looking after the animal mediators includes physiotherapist ("kiné") and hippotherapist Sabrina Lichter since 2006. During individual physiotherapy treatments on the horse, the 38-year-old practices body tension, sitting up straight, balance and other everyday movements with her patients, which can become a hurdle due to a congenital disease. "We see an extremely wide range of illnesses here, be it hemiplegia, spasticity, tetraplegia, which falls under paraplegia, neurological illnesses, multiple sclerosis, parkinson's disease and so on", explains Sabrina.

Horses are particularly well suited for occupational therapy treatments because of their pelvic movements, which are virtually identical to human motor functions. When we walk, our pelvis moves in three dimensions. Sitting on a horse creates the same stimulation, which allows the patient's musculature to be built up as if they were walking cleanly", says the therapist. During sessions in the "kiné" cabinet, she can work with her clients on one level only, while on a horse all three are activated at the same time, making the training more intensive.

Children with flaccid paresis, who have no body tension of their own, learn to straighten up and can often sit up straight within a few months. Horse therapy also has a noticeable effect on people with spasticity, as the limbs become looser and thus the pain is relieved, at least for a few days. "Children who salivate a lot produce almost no excess spit at all for up to two days after therapy, as their mouth motor skills improve", Sabrina reports. During her hippotherapy sessions, she either sits on the horse with her patients or walks beside them to secure the little riders on the side.

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