“Is My Horse a Candidate for Therapeutic Riding

“Is My Horse a Candidate for Therapeutic Riding or Driving?”
Serviceable soundness is essential. Nonprofit therapeutic and
educational programs typically don't have the time or money to
nurse sick or lame horses, and a head-bobbing schoolie is
absolutely unacceptable. Still, though most programs are
understandably cautious about taking on major or advanced cases
of navicular, ringbone or arthritis, many are realistically savvy,
willing and able to manage minor wear and age-related
unsoundnesses that don't limit usefulness or cause discomfort. And
once a horse has proven he's worth his weight in gold, most
programs are more than happy to tend to special needs--regular
thyroid medication, for example--that they might have refused to
assume in the first place.
Therapeutic riding programs have additional requirements. The
North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA)
suggests that, for ease of handling, mounting and side-walking, a
donated horse stand between 14 and 15 hands high. He should be
no younger than five; although some horses have been accepted at
20 or older, prospects for stability, soundness and longevity are
best if he's between eight and 16. Because his movement gives
direct input to a disabled rider's body, he needs to move directly
forward easily and freely. He must be reasonably indifferent to have
strange objects, such as wheelchairs and beach balls, nearby or
touching him. And it is a bonus if he responds readily to voice
However, the above is a "wish list" to which there can be as many
acceptable exceptions as there are horses; for example, some
therapeutic riding programs need horses 16 hands or higher to
carry tall or heavy riders. And some horses adapt more readily than
their owners ever would have dreamed.
Just be prepared to disclose forthrightly your horse's behavioral,
training and health background, including vet records and X-rays if
appropriate. The program director may ask to have her veterinarian
check out any "red flags." And the director or somebody
knowledgeable in her barn will probably want to try him under
saddle to get a feel for his ability, responsiveness, training and
habits--from tolerable ones (say, cutting corners or hanging on the
left rein) to unacceptable ones such as bucking or rearing.
From an article by Kip Goldreyer “Donate Your Horse”