Equine therapy has garnered attention in recent years for its ability to address neuro-psychiatric conditions such as autism, ADHD, anxiety and more.
Equine Therapist and founder of the horse boy method, Rupert Isaacson, joined Jennifer Zamparelli on RTÉ 2fm to talk about how equine therapy can help children with Autism and other disabilities.
"I fell into it by accident. I didn't want to be an equine or any kind of autism guru, just that my son was diagnosed. When he was diagnosed we were at a complete loss at what to do, he was very severe, he was non-verbal. He couldn't communicate with us at all", he tells Jen.
He adds that the "orthodox therapies" they were trying not only didn't help, but made it worse.
As it happened, Isaacson had horses at the time, and was ironically keeping his son, Rowan, away from them. On a trip through the woods, his son saw his neighbour's horse and "made his own connection with her". From there, Isaacson began riding with his son in front of him.
Then, his son "began to speak properly. It all went from there."
Isaacson says the reason this worked – which he later learned from neuroscientists – was that he'd "accidentally stumbled into two things".
"One is a way to switch off what's called the cell danger response in the brain, basically fear and anxiety, which people with autism and other neuro-psychiatric conditions are riddled with, and you're doing this by putting the child into an extended period of hip rocking, which the horse is giving them."
This works because the horse is supporting them and helping the psoas muscle relax, "which is the key to creating a hormone called oxytocin". This is the "antidote to stress" and the hormone that aids communication.
As well as this, he was told that while a child is in that optimal state, the brain releases a protein called bdnf – brain-derived neurotrophic factor. This means the brain is "growing more of its own brain cells", among which are purkinje cells, which help with social interaction.
Within six weeks of Rowan riding the horse, he was forming sentences.
Isaacson says that training the horse correctly for this kind of therapy is crucial, as they need to move as in dressage. This is because leading or riding the horse as normal, an autistic child will tilt forward, which counteracts the relaxing of the psoas muscle and leads to the release of stress hormones.
Isaacson says he teaches how to get many of the benefits of this therapy through three methods, including the horse boy method, the movement method – which teaches parents, teachers and carers to mimic the therapy – and Athena, which is catered to adults and is a ground-based activity with horses.
Now, Rowan has continued to develop over the last 15 years and is able to drive, travel on his own and is thriving.
To listen back to the full interview, click above.