Horseback riding has myriad benefits for all children, but particularly kids with special needs. We learn more about the only organization in Singapore that provides individualized equine-assisted therapy sessions.
Please welcome Jessamine Ihrcke, founder of THERIS – Therapeutic & Educational Riding in Singapore, to tell us more about this wonderful organisation and the opportunities it offers for children in Singapore.
THERIS was born out of my love for the horse and close bond that we can share with this incredible creature. Horses have been said to be the “mirror to our soul” and they allow us explore ourselves, face any personal issues and move forward.
My fascination with horses started at an early age, but I never knew or could have imagined what an important role that they would have in my life. Born to a mother from Hong Kong and a father from Germany, I grew up speaking three different languages, none particularly well. I was also shy amongst my peers and was not particularly good in school. I preferred to retreat into my world of (horse) books.
I was “hooked” from the first time that I ever sat on a horse. The more that I rode, the more confident I became, both in my riding and myself! The calm, trust and complete acceptance that I received from horses gave me the confidence to accept me for who I was.
This magical bond is why I believe that so many children are drawn to horses. Horses do not judge or fear what is different, and have no preconceived notion of how someone should act. This is what allows children to feel safe to explore a deeper relationship with the horse. It is this bond that I wanted to share, and the more that I saw the impact on people, the more that I wanted to help people through horses.
I achieved a degree in psychology in the U.K. and earned my equine-assisted therapy certification in Germany. I’ve been in the industry for over a decade and have a long and extensive background in equine-assisted therapy, including previous work as the Operations Manager at the Riding for the Disabled Association Hong Kong and as an Instructor at the Riding for the Disabled Association Singapore.
I was also the Head Equine-Assisted Therapist and a Riding Instructor for the Equestrian Federation of Singapore (EFS) based at the National Equestrian Centre (NEC). My role with the EFS included the development and delivery of the EQUAL ARK Program (Equine-Assisted Therapy For At-Risk Kids), a landmark program funded by Temasek Holdings.
During my time in the equestrian industry, I have witnessed the changes in each and every child with special needs while interacting with horses. Some changes are smaller, while others are bigger, but there is always a change. At THERIS, we focus on the child’s ABILITY and not their disability. We focus on helping them improve upon on their coordination, balance, confidence, motor skills, the ability to follow instructions better, trunk control and self-esteem.
In Singapore, 1 in 150 children is diagnosed with Autism, and with this increase, there has been a rise in the demand for Equine Assisted Therapy given its impact on children.
When on horseback, the child experiences a feeling of being carried and carried away, and are thereby given a sense of confidence to explore emotions that are otherwise suppressed. Additionally, the movement of the horse stimulates them physically without causing undue stress on the body. The child has to use their core muscles to keep themselves balanced on the horse, and their motor skills to engage the horse in various activities.
Having to care for the horse allows children to learn about responsibility, empathy and communication with someone – or something – that does not speak the same language.
We all have individual needs that require attention. Some learn better in a group, while others learn better alone. THERIS focuses on the individual and is recognised as the only organisation in Singapore that provides individualised equine-assisted therapy sessions.
We, as therapists, are there to facilitate the relationship between the horse and the client, and focus on providing individual therapeutic and educational riding lessons with an emphasis on the individual needs of each client.
THERIS is located within the Bukit Timah Saddle Club at 51 Fairways Drive; just off Eng Neo Avenue and currently offers Therapeutic and Educational Riding lessons using a specially trained therapeutic riding horse – Desirée.
Desirée (“Dessie”) came to Singapore as a competitive show jumper and was very successful during her career, winning many medals and ribbons. It was obvious that Desiree always had the rider’s welfare at heart as she leapt to glory! She was always kind, careful and loving and continues to display these traits today. It is because of her personality that it was decided to use Desiree as a therapy horse following her retirement from competition. She has embraced this change wholeheartedly and takes great pride in her role in the development of each and every student.
Therapeutic & Educational Riding in Singapore (THERIS), Bukit Timah Saddle Club, 51 Fairways Drive, Singapore 286965, Tel: (+65) 9863 8739, www.theris.com.sg