The Makings of a Therapy Horse

January 13, 2022

Why do people insist “that horse can’t do that job because they’re a [insert breed here]”?

In my opinion, the better statement would be “that horse can’t do that job WELL (or do that job YET), because of their confirmation, conditioning, or training.”

When one thinks of a therapy horse, they most likely picture a Quarter horse, a Morgan, a Fjord, a Halflinger, a Gypsy, a Paint, or an Appaloosa. These breeds all share a common trait, they’re gentle-mannered with a calm disposition. Most often, therapy horses are geldings. Their height typically ranges from 14.2 - 15.3 hh, as the stride of these horses moves the rider’s torso and pelvis in a similar fashion to the human walking gait. What’s the one horse breed not typically pictured as a therapy horse? A Thoroughbred.

In addition to rehabbing my 3 year old OTTB, I am also helping to work with a 16 year old OTTB who has spent the last 10 years post-racetrack frolicking in a giant field in upstate NY. In October, we pulled her out of retirement and began her therapy horse training.

From her first session, it was clear that she was a natural. Her walk is cautious, but slow. Her trot is one of the smoothest in the whole barn. But her favorite part? Whoa-ing for stretches and hugs! When asked to “3-2-1 Whoa”, she stands perfectly still, almost asleep as her rider reaches forwards or backwards. Like any other horse, she has her fair share of spooky moments (she is very sensitive to background noise and other horses in the arena at the same time), but we are actively working on desensitization. At 16.2 hh, she is taller than the average therapy horse, but she is wide.

For now, the name of the game is patience and persistence. Just because she’s a Thoroughbred doesn’t mean she can’t learn how to be a great therapy horse. But because of the stigma surrounding her breed, it will just take a little longer for others to warm up to the idea…

With H.O.P.E.

Diana Bezdedeanu