Four-year-old Owen loves to climb and dance but when he sits on gentle old Welsh pony Sherbie his little body relaxes and he dozes off.
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The preschooler has Down syndrome and has been having sessions with the pony as part of an equine-assisted learning program that has opened in his regional community, in the Riverland of South Australia.
Owen’s mum, Jennifer McCullough, was keen for Owen to experience being around horses and knew he responded well to animal-assisted learning sessions.
He has had sessions with dogs and Ms McCullough credits them with motivating him to first walk.
“Since seeing Abby and the horses he’s signed [the word for horse] for the first time,” Ms McCullough said.
“We find the animals are very relaxing, very calming, it’s a chance to slow down.”
She said being with Sherbie had improved Owen’s confidence around animals and developed his physical strength.
“In terms of therapy, for us it’s about strengthening and the core skills, it takes a lot of effort for him to be able to keep himself upright,” Ms McCullough said.
“And having the different and unbalanced movements of the horse is good for muscle tone; the horse therapy will help that a lot, we hope.”
Owen being supported by riding instructor Abby Threadgold (right) and mum Jennifer McCullough with his older sister and cousin.(ABC Riverland: Catherine Heuzenroeder)
Love of horses spurs on teacher
Teacher Abby Threadgold recently started A Country Gem Riding Therapy at her farm in Renmark North.
It was an opportunity to combine her love of horses with her work as a teacher of children with special needs.