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Horse Therapy: Healing Hooves in South Africa

Horse Therapy in South AfircaAgainst the backdrop of the Tygerberg Hills and fields of ripening vines and flowering plumbago, a chestnut mare and a Basotho mountain pony are being chased around a hay- covered paddock by a gleeful, shrieking horde of novice African cowboys. For these youths from Cape Town, who have had no kind of childhood, the stables at the De Grendel wine estate, the nearest farmland to the city, are a garden of Eden. And it is here that they will undergo a course of ‘equine therapy’, which may turn out to be the catalyst in raising their self-esteem, helping them to confront their demons, and offering them a route out of drug addiction.

Cape Town has notorious townships and one of the highest murder rates in the world: on average five people are murdered every day and 10 are raped (and subsequently often infected with HIV) – and that is only the incidents that are reported. It is a world where people kill for a can of Coke or a piece of chewing-gum. Street children are forced into living terrifying minute-by-minute existences, with violence around every corner, where the abuse of tik and buttons (crystal meth and amphetamines) is rife, and HIV is cutting a swath through the population. (Almost a third of 25- to 29-year- old South African women are living with HIV.)

Equine-assisted psychotherapy can’t do much to alleviate these statistics, but on a small scale it is showing extraordinary results. For example, one 18-year-old who came through the course, Marni, had been a member of the 28s, the most notorious of the ‘Numbers’ gangs (the higher the number, the more dangerous the gang), before being sent here by a street children’s welfare organisation. He had been on the streets and addicted to drugs since he was five, and was extremely reticent when he first entered the paddock. But after a few weeks of interaction he experienced an epiphany with the horses.

‘I feel safe with them,’ he said. ‘No one judges me; horses take me for who I am.’

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Watch video of youth working with horses in this South Africa equine therapy program

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