Second Careers for Dressage Horses as Therapy Horses

A therapeutic riding training and education coordinator shares the story of a special dressage horse turned therapy horse.
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A therapeutic riding training and education coordinator shares the story of a special dressage horse turned therapy horse.

From standing stud as a youngster in Germany, to winning a gold medal in USDF grand prix competition in Florida, to his current career as a therapy horse at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding, Inc., in Connecticut, Greco has proven that he knows how to make the most out of his life, while enhancing the lives of others.

Katie Guernsey and Greco | Photo courtesy of High Hopes Therapeutic Riding

Katie Guernsey and Greco | Photo courtesy of High Hopes Therapeutic Riding

This talented 21-year-old Oldenburg gelding climbed the ladder of fame in competitive dressage, to greet a fortune rich not only in applause and medals, but also in opportunity. At age 18, Greco was ready to give his hocks a break and leave the grandstands behind to take on a new challenge--that of working with riders with disabilities.

On the Trails
Within days of his arrival at High Hopes, Greco passed all therapy horse prerequisite tests with flying colors. He transitioned easily into the program. Instead of going on trail rides to break the flow of steady training in the dressage arena, he was hoofin' it through the sensory trails to give riders access to activities, such as riding through a noodle forest of packing foam. In this activity, riders feel the light touch and momentary rub of layers of shoulder length noodles designed to decrease tactile sensitivity, improve body awareness and regulate stimulation.

In the Arena

In the setting of an arena, Greco uses his athleticism, attentiveness and sensitivity to adhere to the needs of riders with disabilities. One of his regular clients, Peter, is 82 years old and had a stroke that, among other symptoms, left him weak on one side of his body.

The relationship between horse and rider in dressage is that of precision, strength and balance, juxtaposed by unequivocal communication and awareness of surroundings. It is a relationship marked by reciprocity. This unique form of give and take reflects how therapeutic riding can improve the quality of life for both people with disabilities and horses.

Peter riding Greco | Photo courtesy of High Hopes Therapeutic Riding

Peter riding Greco | Photo courtesy of High Hopes Therapeutic Riding

For more information about therapeutic riding or a second career for your dressage horse, call High Hopes at 860-434-1974 or visit the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) website at www.narha.org.

Katie Guernsey is an Advanced level NARHA Instructor. Her background includes working as the Training and Education Coordinator at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding, freelance writing and teaching chemistry and English. In addition, she has worked as an assistant to a lion researcher in Africa and as a sport horse trainer and exerciser in Ireland. She has competed in dressage and hunt seat. Katie is a graduate of the Kentucky Horseshoeing School and has a part-time farrier business. She also holds a bachelor of arts in English and pre-veterinary studies from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.