Forum: Heartland therapy sessions may be stressful to horses

An instructor with a therapy horse in Yishun, on Oct 16, 2019.
An instructor with a therapy horse in Yishun, on Oct 16, 2019. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Taking horses to the heartland for therapy sessions for people with special needs may be an initiative with good intentions but I worry about the health of the horses - from the stress of being transported every week to and from the heartland to being in the midst of the concrete jungle (Horses in the heartland, Nov 4).

I am not an expert on horses but I know they are sensitive animals. They may rear up or break into runs at the slightest noise or wrong touch. During the therapy sessions, the shrieks and shrills from other children and attention-grabbing whistles by some adults watching by the side will likely stress the horses. There are also the general background noises from vehicles, loud talking and bicycle bells, among others.

These may be too much for the horses. Should they react badly during the therapy sessions, there may be serious injury to the participants too.

Each session may be short, with the horses back in their stables for lunch before heading to the paddocks, but the accumulated stress of such weekly obligations may gradually take a toll on the horses' mental, emotional and physical health.

Would it be better to organise weekly therapy programmes in the heartland and ferry the participants with special needs to the horses on their home turf instead?

This was what my special-needs nephew's school did when he was enrolled there. It may also be more cost-effective in the long run for the organising charity Equal.

I hope a comprehensive study on the possible impact on the horses had been undertaken before the scheme's pilot launch, and that a thorough assessment will be done after that before it becomes a permanent programme.

Wendy Yuen Woon Yoke

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2019, with the headline 'Heartland therapy sessions may be stressful to horses'. Print Edition | Subscribe