From Walking to Trotting

by Irene Schiff

The Istituto Francesco Cavazza and horseback riding during "green weeks".


Horseback riding activities for children living with vision loss are still taking place, requests for participation are constantly increasing and there already are reservations for 2008-09.
from the yearly activities carried out during school time, "green weeks" now have similar success. The activities lend themselves well to the warm summer weather and the freedom it provides. Lessons take place predominantly outside in the beautiful GESE Horse Park, in San Lazzaro di Savena, and last all day. During the summer of 2007, there were so many registration requests that it was necessary to organize a second week, one with five expert riders and the other with four new cowboys (three boys and one girl to be exact). A fifth cowboy was actually supposed to participate in the second week, but a family situation kept him from doing so. He will be expected with pleasure for the next "green week". The horseback riding activities, which began in 2004, were at first designed for children living with vision loss, but after such successful results, the Istituto Cavazza decided that it was appropriate to extend the program to children with other physical and mental pathologies. The new families have had various approaches to the initiative; there was curiosity, fervour but also doubts.

Visually impaired kids with their mother 

Kids, parents and instructors at GESE

Photo - Blind girl with horse

Throughout the year, however, the children's enthusiasm and the psycho-physiological improvements that parents personally noticed (improvements, not miracles) dispelled any lingering doubt they had.

Why are these activities such fun?
The "green weeks" are a complement to the annual
activities where children acquire knowledge about the animal, confidence and ways to interact with it, necessary techniques for orientation, movement coordination and how to ride the animal. During the summer, besides reinforcing what has been learned, additional activities can be done in psychomotricity, dance, ludic and educational excursions and refreshing swimming in the pool. The protagonists are the students and the horses, in a continuous interaction. These animals have provided students the motivation to participate, to interact and to learn, the necessary space to express emotions, to project their internal world which in some cases is so difficult to do. And this all came about in a context of emotional exchange, games and sports. The horses were able to recognize the riders' disability and adapted their behaviour consequently; respecting the gestures and commands they received sometimes very slowly and sometimes quite vivaciously.


Also, unlike human beings, animals don't make value judgment about this behaviour. Since they do not have social prejudice, and because body language is always used to communicate with other animals, horses do not withdraw, show embarrassment, pity, or arrogance in front of cavaliers who walk, speak or orient themselves differently. Consequently, social distances that are often experienced by persons with disabilities, even if at times unconsciously, do not exist during "green weeks" or during the yearly activities. The presence of Aiasport instructors and the undersigned seemed almost marginal and did not transpire the lengthy work of preparation for individual and group programs, necessary to best develop the psychological dynamics within each group. 
After horseback riding in the morning, the riders spend the afternoon having fun (don't they ever get tired?) with activities in psychomotricity, dance, goal ball games which link pleasure with orientation and socialization purposes. And the horses? As Carducci wrote in his poetry Davanti San Guido: and a lovely group of horses neighing and trotting, happy.