Horse therapy in the heartland for people with special needs

Janice Png, four, who has autism spectrum disorder, being led by her mother, Ms Koh Ming Hui, 32, as she strokes a therapy horse during the launch of Wednesdays With Horses - a horse therapy programme that aims to help people with special needs open
Janice Png, four, who has autism spectrum disorder, being led by her mother, Ms Koh Ming Hui, 32, as she strokes a therapy horse during the launch of Wednesdays With Horses - a horse therapy programme that aims to help people with special needs open up more through interactions with the horses.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Valentina's job used to involve carrying a polo player through gruelling training sessions, sometimes slogging through the rain at breakneck speed.

Years later, after a lifetime of being a polo pony, there is no longer a need for speed in her life.

She will now take it slow, accompanying people with special needs through horse therapy sessions.

Every Wednesday, she will make an appearance at a sheltered basketball court next to Block 311 Yishun Ring Road for four hours, as part of Singapore's first horse therapy programme to be conducted within a Housing Board estate.

The programme, Wednesdays with Horses, was launched yesterday with the aim of helping people with special needs open up more and, through interactions with the horses, develop more confidence.

The horses involved have been rescued and retrained by local animal therapy charity Equal.

"In crowded and fast-paced Singapore, many of us prefer to live separate lives. Horses, however, have a magnetic quality that attracts people naturally," said Mr Ng Tze Yong, chief executive officer of Equal.

"Strangers not only come together, they learn, through working with the horses, the skills of relating to and understanding the needs of others," Mr Ng added.

In the long run, the programme is expected to see up to 200 participants and 60 volunteers a year.

Four beneficiaries have signed up for the programme so far, including four-year-old Janice Png.

Janice, who has autism spectrum disorder, attended the first session yesterday with her parents. She will undergo a carefully planned programme with activities involving therapy horses like Valentina.

 
 

"This programme can help expose Janice to different experiences. It is not often that children come into close contact with a horse," said Mr Png Huat Ching, 36, Janice's father.

Mr Png had noticed a marked improvement in Janice's condition after music therapy, and thought it would be a good idea to have her participate in some form of animal therapy. "I am hopeful she will become more receptive and open up over time - not only to people but to animals as well," Mr Png said.

Wednesdays with Horses is partially funded through SG Enable's Tote Board Enabling Lives Initiative Grant, and costs $120 per participant, for four one-hour sessions.

To sign up for the programme, visit www.equal.org.sg/familyprogramme

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2019, with the headline 'Horse therapy in the heartland for people with special needs'. Print Edition | Subscribe