When María Lourdes caresses the shiny brown coat of “Presidente” at a park in Costa Rica, an energy travels through her body and explodes in her face by the form of a smile. The horse has managed to jump the mental fence of her cerebral palsy.
“Presidente”, along with “Jorge”, “Porky” and “Palomo”, awaits their patients in the Parque Metropolitano La Sabana de San José to treat them with equine therapy. Eight sessions, each 45 minutes, once a week.
There are four Quarter Mile equines that are members of the Costa Rican Mounted Police. “They have training in meekness so that they are not disturbed by the noise, they are very sensitive, docile,” says the head of the Mounted Police, Mayor Victor Porras.
“With our horses we contribute to the most needy, bringing them a smile, a hope (…) We work with children, with the elderly, people with disabilities, totally free,” he says about this project that began in 2020 .
Equine therapy is an increasingly widespread therapeutic technique that takes advantage of the horse’s movements and energy to support the treatment of various ailments. “We make people grow, raising that emotional potential they have, because they are frustrated, psychologically damaged, in a society that often turns its back on them. We work to lift their spirits,” explains Porras.
Their smiles are worth it
Helped by two officers, María Lourdes walks to meet the horses. She is 18 years old and born prematurely. A respiratory failure a few days after arriving in the world caused cerebral palsy. During her life, learning and socializing have been difficult, says her mother, Isabel. Through family members she learned about equine therapy and decided to take it.
“She did not have much affinity with animals. When she felt contact with an animal of any kind, it made her nauseous (…) What was my surprise that (upon arriving at therapy) María Lourdes did not have nausea, she happily got involved with the horses and with the policemen,” says her mother.
She has been attending therapy for two months. Riding the horse, hugging it and interacting with the policemen. She is a more sociable person and the seizures resulting from her brain damage have decreased.
“We look forward to each week, the day for coming back to therapy, to see her with these achievements, little by little (…) For us, seeing that smile is worth everything in life,” says Isabel.
The horse knew she was suffering
Stephany Arce is 34 years old, suffers from anxiety, depression and has panic attacks that complicate her work life, to the limit. She believes that medical treatment was not enough. “I was ready to do something crazy, I was tired, I didn’t want to live … thank God I have been with this therapy,” she explains.
Stepnahy hugs the horse, as if seeking to be comforted. Ride in it. Caressing it. “The horse lets you transmit it, you receive the horse, you receive warmth and you receive tranquility (…) I imagine you know that inside maybe I was suffering, and I had a pain, but not a physical one, it was a mental, emotional pain, of the soul,” she adds.
How do the horses do it?
Gilbert Serrano is 63 years old, and with a blockage in an artery that left him with paralyzed limbs. His family was supposed to help him with his daily needs. While waiting for his medical appointment to start treatment, he learned about equine therapy. “They told me it was with horses and I said to myself: what do horses have to do with this? I was wrong to say that,” he confesses.
“When I started doing this therapy I began to feel a certain energy, something chemical that ran through my left arm, which was the most affected. I felt a tingling, which the horse was transmitting to me,” he says.
He arrived almost unable to walk, and in five sessions has already recovered much of the movement of his body, and has returned to fend for himself. And he shows it by taking a light jog in the park.
Horses treat not only civilians, but also their own “fellow” police officers
The Mounted Police officer, William Jiménez, 53, says he suffered an episode of bullying in 2017 that almost led him to suicide. In addition to professional and family support, he turned to horses. “They radiate that peace, that tranquility (…) For me, it may sound ridiculous to some, they are four-legged psychologists with a huge heart,” he adds.