Horses Help Patients Heal from Brain Surgery

Just a few weeks after my brain trauma and surgery, my physical therapists in the rehab hospital, The Lavigny Institution, recommended a pony ride to help me heal. My entourage at home found that suggestion amusing as they pictured me on a pony with my long legs dragging the dirt.

I was dumbfounded to find out my rehab center had its own stable, vineyard and farm. Dating back to 1906, over a century, a rich Pasteur in Vaud Canton Charles Subilia troubled by the death of an epileptic boy dedicated his fortune to creating an asylum for epileptics. The center now grown to over 900 employees specialized in treating epileptics and stroke victims comes as no surprise, but the fact they owned their own stable and offered hippo therapy seemed unbelievable.

Though the use of equine-assisted therapy (EAT) involve activities with horses to promote human physical and mental health after injury and illness has roots in antiquity, I had never heard of it.

“The movement of a horse side to side, forward to back hip rotations are what humans need to do when walking,” my PT explained. “Riding a horse helps promote that movement that we forget after brain accidents.”

The horse’s pelvis moves in the same three ways as a human pelvis does creating a movement pattern similar to human walking.

My physical therapists were so enthusiastic they could get me to agree to anything, but on the day I was scheduled for pony therapy I had second thoughts. Was I crazy? I hadn’t ridden a horse in over 50 years. But there was no way I could fall off. To mount the pony, which I was surprised to see had grown overnight to the size of a horse, I walked up a ramp and they brought the horse to a stand beside me.

A stable girl with years of experience took the reins and led the horse down a country lanes. Therapists walked either side of me.

“Lean left , lean right, more hip movement, less upper body, pull back upper shoulders, sit up straight in saddle,” Benoit instructed while I tried to let my body sway into the horse’s natural rhythm . Benoit modified the horse’s movement to promote specific responses within the me, while he simultaneously instructed a fellow PT.

In addition to the physical contact with the animal, the horse also provided sensory input aiding my body’s ability to sense its location, movements, and actions in a continuous loop of feedback between sensory receptors throughout my body and my nervous system.

As I rode down the trail, my worries melted. My rigid, body melted into the movement of the horse while my mind blended into the healing atmosphere of nature. As wind washed over my face, golden fields of wheat undulated in the winds like a Hawaiians dancers hips swaying in grass skirts.

Lavender fields and cobalt blue ponds looked as vivid as a Van Gogh paintings. Baby goats rollicked at their mamas heels and cows, the color of toasted marshmallows, grazed in lush green valleys. The entire vista opened up to the majestic Lake Geneva surrounded by the imposing Alps, which looked like sea creatures rising up from the deep.

The feel of the breeze, the steady rocking of the horse and the mesmerizing view filled me profound peace allowing total liberation from my broken body and bruised mind and gave me hope.

“The Lavigny Institution supports each person as a whole: physical, psychic, intellectual, emotional and spiritual to develop autonomy and social relationships, as well as foster the development of the person.”

Posted in health.


  1. First of all, I had no idea equine therapy was so involved! That they have learned to put so much of the horse’s movement to use (changing gait to achieve what patient needs) with strong results. Wow, very interesting.

    Second, Pat, you have such a gift for description. Loved reading about your impressions of this first ride.

    Wishing you the very best results with your health, dear friend.

    • Thanks for your lovely comment Lynne and also for letting know right away about the glitch on my website. Technologically is great when it works, but I am clueless what to do when it goes sideways. Sometimes I long to return to the old days of paper and pens, but alas then we would never have met and this way we can stay friends even though we live so far apart.

  2. Dear Pat, this is very interesting. I didn’t realize equine therapy had a scientific base. So happy you have this treatment option. Thinking of you and wishing you continued progress, my dear friend. Love the smile. It says it all!

  3. I’ll say it again…I am so impressed with not only Lavigny but with your entire care team from the EMTs who took you on the flight to the hospital, to your surgeons, to your PTs. What wonderful care you got and to throw in a pony ride on top of all that, well that’s a treat! So happy to see these pictures. I was trying to visualize you on the “pony.” So thankful for all the great therapies and therapists you had to get you back on the road to normalcy.

    • Well I may be on the road back, but I don’t think I will ever be normal again. Of course I probably never was, so I am getting back in the game embracing my new crazy self.

  4. I’m so glad you tried this type of therapy. I volunteered at a stable that had a special needs therapy and it was wonderful to see.
    Praying for your full recovery.
    Love you!

  5. Horses are amazing like dogs…I do hippo therapy Ive been riding horses since I was 3 years old…I have mild Cabral palsy on my right leg..and riding horses help a lot…I have a walker now but I’m trying to get off of it and walk again like I did in my school days…I also do chiropractic care too..I’ve done horses and chiropractic care my whole life

    • Kisty, so glad to hear that hippo therapy has been so beneficial for you. Although that was my first experience with horse therapy, I have been under chiropractic care for the past 50 years and that is why I am still able to walk. I wish you continued progress and hope you can ditch that walker soon.

      • Awwww thank you: so sweet….. God Bless you…… I
        Do what I can to get stronger:I do yoga,bike machine,dance,chiropractic care and I’m going to have a hot tub…it will be coming a few more weeks or months….We bought it after I got baptized… will probably arrive sometime in the fall so perfect time to use the hot tub

      • Thank you:I’ve decided to not do horses anymore because the last ride I got dizzy they wanted to do some circles you know going around the arena…. and also I was out of line so that made the ride very unsafe and a little bit scared….I’m a little afraid of riding again next year…..but I finally found a great chiropractor in the area where I live and he’s going to help me get of my walker and walk again without my walker which I didn’t have during my school days…I fell a couple of times on my California/Arizona trip and yesterday I had a adjustment and I’m walking so much better and nose is not runny….it felt like I had a cold…I told him my new chiropractor that I walked with out my walker….I ended up with a walker a few years after I graduated from high school in 2010…speaking of high school….my high school reunion was going to be this year in December and I told my chiropractor that and he said our goal is to get me walking again with out the walker and my faith in Jesus I love my Jesus Christ more than ever since I got baptized in July this year 2020

      • Awwww thank you….I was on a trip to California and Chandler Arizona and I told my chiropractor thAT I didn’t have a walker in my school days and that I walked….I told him that my high school reunion was going to be this year and was going to be happening in December and he said our plans and goal is to get me walking again with out my walker by the time my high school reunion is coming which will probably be next year and my faith in Jesus Christ helps me strong and keeps me going

      • And I don’t know about horses anymore because the last ride was scary I got dizzy on them horse and I was out of line you know because I needed adjustment….so I I’m sure about riding horses again…Yes It helped but it was just too much

I would love to hear from you

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.