We've all heard of assistance and therapy dogs, but for Catriona Breslin’s daughter, the preferred therapy animal is a horse called Fred. Catriona told Baz Ashmaway – sitting in for Ryan – how her daughter Aoibhinn has grown to love her time with Fred and how much he’s meant to the whole family. Aoibhinn is what’s referred to as to as multi-disabled visually impaired: she’s blind and she has developmental issues. She gets access to Fred thanks to the charity ChildVision.
"In ChildVision they offer what’s called Equine-Assisted Occupational Therapy. So it’s equine therapy, which is the therapy with horses and horse care, but they interweave occupational therapy into the session, which you wouldn’t know was happening to look at it."
Aoibhinn is 13 and first met Fred 6 years ago. It was love at first encounter, and it’s been that way ever since, Catriona says:
"Fred just loves Aoibhinn. He’s so excited to see her. They’re friends. She’ll throw her arms around him, she’ll give him a big hug and a kiss."
Equine therapy is special because the very nature of horses is something that seems to bring children joy. Catriona describes the horses at ChildVision as holding space:
"Really, horses have that power and they just hold space so unconditionally for the children. And with Aoibhinn, just to watch that interaction is quite profound, it’s quite emotional. I’ve got quite emotional being in that space."
Catriona goes on to describe how Aoibhinn is with Fred – she's in command, she communicates with him and he understands her. And for Aoibhinn, getting on Fred’s back is only the start of the action:
"She’ll change her position. She’ll sit on his back, she’ll lie across his back, she’ll go backwards, and with all of that she’s developing communication skills and that agency over her experience in the world and how she can be in command and be understood."
As Baz puts in, it gives Aoibhinn ownership. Lockdown was tough for Aoibhinn as she couldn’t get to see Fred on site in Drumcondra. But, Catriona says, ChildVision had an unexpected remedy to that problem:
"So, Audrey [from ChildVision] rang, said, 'Look, we’re going to do a home visit.’ And I thought it was an occupational therapy home visit and I was like, ‘Ok, great.’ And then she said, ‘With the horse.’"
As Aoibhinn couldn’t go to the horses, the horses came to Aoibhinn (much to the surprise of the neighbours).