No hors­ing around

Rid­ing at the first ther­a­peu­tic school in an Arab town

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - LETTERS | CONTENTS - • By DIANA BLETTER

On a re­cent af­ter­noon, a herd of cat­tle am­bled across a field while inside a rid­ing area, sev­eral chil­dren – in­clud­ing those with var­i­ous phys­i­cal and men­tal chal­lenges – rode horses at the first ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing school in an Is­raeli-Arab town.

The Hurodj Horse Farm in Jadeidi-Makr, a few kilo­me­ters east of Acre in the Western Galilee, is a fam­ily-run busi­ness, owned and op­er­ated by Muham­mad Hu­droj and his wife, Gi­han. The fam­ily opened the horse farm in 1999 and in­tro­duced the ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing pro­gram 10 years later. The pro­gram, which is cov­ered by the Na­tional Health In­sur­ance sys­tem, draws both Jewish and Arab chil­dren from the sur­round­ing ar­eas – some who come for ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing, and oth­ers who train for com­pe­ti­tions and horse shows.

Hu­droj, 44, has been fas­ci­nated by horses since he was a young boy grow­ing up in Acre. His fa­ther re­fused to buy him a horse, but a cousin granted Hu­droj’s wish and gifted him his first horse.

Hu­droj loved rid­ing his horse so much that he some­times skipped school to go to horse races and shows. He even­tu­ally be­come a top cham­pion of rid­ing Ara­bian horses in Is­rael.

In a re­cent in­ter­view at his horse farm, Hu­droj said there was never a time that he was not with a horse. He still rides and trains with one of his sons, 13-year-old Tarik, for en­durance rid­ing – a trek in which rid­ers travel 80 kilo­me­ters on horse­back. Hu­droj hopes that they will soon go to Europe to do a 160-km. en­durance ride.

Gi­han, a 42-year-old Lod na­tive, said that when she mar­ried her hus­band, she had no con­nec­tion to horses. She used to work and her “hus­band would take the money to buy horses.”

While rais­ing their five chil­dren, who have al­ways been in­volved with the farm, Gi­han be­come more in­volved with help­ing her hus­band with their 50 horses. Gi­han re­ceived cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to be a ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing in­struc­tor and oc­ca­sion­ally in­structs chil­dren, but she is usu­ally found run­ning the busi­ness in the of­fice.

The farm has four in­struc­tors, in­clud­ing Orit Klein, 36. Klein is both the only fe­male and the only Jewish in­struc­tor and has worked at the farm since 2009. Klein grew up in the heart of Tel Aviv but al­ways loved na­ture and an­i­mals, es­pe­cially horses. She started rid­ing when she was 10 and com­peted in horse shows for sev­eral years be­fore study­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion in Haifa at Gor­don Col­lege and be­com­ing cer­ti­fied as a ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing in­struc­tor at the Win­gate In­sti­tute. She has worked with hun­dreds of chil­dren since.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent clin­i­cal study, Amer­i­can re­searcher Michelle How­ell Smith found that equine ther­apy sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced anger, de­pres­sion, post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and so­cial anx­i­ety. Other re­search shows that horses can stim­u­late the tac­tile senses of chil­dren with autism to foster pos­si­ble com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Rid­ing can also help peo­ple de­velop mus­cu­lar, skele­tal and oc­u­lar skills, as well as im­prove mem­ory and at­ten­tion.

Klein said that horses serve as silent teach­ers be­cause of their sen­si­tiv­ity: they reflect the emo­tional en­ergy of the per­son with them. Horses re­spond to hu­mans eas­ily and can de­velop both trust and a sense of con­nec­tion – the very things that chil­dren with emo­tional dis­or­ders need. Sit­ting on a large, pow­er­ful an­i­mal can also give chil­dren con­fi­dence and a sense of mas­tery and con­trol. Some chil­dren learn to over­come their fears, while oth­ers learn to master their ag­gres­sion.

Klein re­counted that a stu­dent who could walk only with the aid of two crutches came to her. The rhythm of the horse’s gait gave the child a sense of flex­i­bil­ity and move­ment. The boy went from us­ing two crutches to us­ing one. To­day, he can now walk with­out crutches.

Chil­dren also learn other skills in the rid­ing arena that might be dif­fi­cult for them to learn in the class­room. For ex­am­ple, Klein said, the calm­ness of horses makes chil­dren fo­cus bet­ter. She can teach math while a child rides the horse. (“One horse has four legs; how many legs do two horses have?” she used as an ex­am­ple.)

Mon­tha Haj, a res­i­dent of Jadeide-Makr, said that her old­est son be­gan go­ing to the horse farm in second grade be­cause he was strug­gling with At­ten­tion Deficit Dis­or­der (ADD). The ther­apy helped him so much that he no longer ex­pe­ri­ences learn­ing prob­lems in school. Now 14, Haj’s son still rides horses at the farm – not for ther­a­peu­tic rea­sons, but as a hobby.

Haj said that her two younger sons, as well as her sev­enyear-old daugh­ter, all ride horses there. Her sons vol­un­teer at the farm, feed­ing, clean­ing and groom­ing the horses.

“Learn­ing to ride a horse was like a mir­a­cle for my son,” Haj said. “And now horses have be­come a part of our fam­ily’s life.”

It took time for Hu­drodj and his staff to at­tract any lo­cal rid­ers. In the Arab sec­tor, Hu­drodj said, peo­ple were not aware of the ben­e­fits of equine ther­apy. Hu­drodj and Klein trav­eled to speak to physi­cians, teach­ers and ed­u­ca­tors in board­ing schools to ex­plain the pro­gram and its ben­e­fits.

Gi­han said that at first, peo­ple were also con­fused by a re­li­gious Mus­lim woman on a horse. She has since ex­plained that there is noth­ing in the Ko­ran that pre­vents women from rid­ing.

In ad­di­tion to the Win­gate course, there are sev­eral other in­sti­tutes to ob­tain ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion around Is­rael. The Is­rael Na­tional Ther­a­peu­tic Rid­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, lo­cated at the Hadas­sah Youth Vil­lage out­side of Ne­tanya, has spe­cial one-year cour­ses for ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing in­struc­tion. It also runs work­shops and clin­ics, in­clud­ing vo­ca­tional train­ing and high school ma­tric­u­la­tion cour­ses. The Tel Mond-based Ther­a­peu­tic Rid­ing Cen­ter of Is­rael works with more than 3,000 chil­dren each year and of­fers ther­a­peu­tic in­ter­ven­tions for vic­tims of trauma, in­clud­ing peo­ple with head and spinal in­juries, hear­ing dis­abil­i­ties and peo­ple who are legally blind. In co­op­er­a­tion with Bar-Ilan Univer­sity, the Cen­ter also con­ducts re­search.

Klein said that one un­ex­pected bonus to her teach­ing at the farm is that she has learned Ara­bic – her fourth lan­guage, af­ter He­brew, English and Por­tuguese. Al­though work­ing with chil­dren on horses is a tremen­dous re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause of po­ten­tial in­juries or dis­tress, Klein “thor­oughly en­joys” her job. She said she likes tak­ing chil­dren out of the rid­ing arena to ex­plore the nearby woods and fields. Over the past 10 years, she said she has ex­pe­ri­enced hol­i­days and cel­e­bra­tions in the town, estab­lish­ing “a deep con­nec­tion” not only with the horses and stu­dents, but also with the Hu­drodj fam­ily.

“Even though it’s very hard work, it is won­der­ful to have a job do­ing some­thing I love,” Klein said.


BSHAR HAJ stands tall in the sad­dle. ‘Now horses have be­come a part of our fam­ily’s life.’

(Diana Bletter)

ORIT KLEIN, a ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing in­struc­tor, in­structs a stu­dent at the Hurodj horse farm in the Western Galilee.

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