Volunteers Introduce the Masterson Method to US Veterans in the Horses Helping Heroes Project

Click the image to find out how you can support the Horses Helping Heroes Project.

Click the image to find out how you can support the Horses Helping Heroes Project.

While the therapeutic value of horses has been recognized for centuries, their wide scale use as a therapeutic tool for veterans with special needs and disabilities is relatively recent.

In 2006, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in conjunction with the Army’s Caisson Platoon, implemented a pilot program using equine-assisted therapy for soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. The veterans in this program were seen to improve in areas of balance, muscle strength, posture, self-esteem, and self-confidence. This successful pilot program served as the catalyst for the development of the HORSES HELPING HEROES PROJECT in Smithfield, Virginia.

The HORSES HELPING HEROES PROJECT is based at private facility that is a PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International) member center, bringing together a team of skilled horses, PATH-certified instructors, and a group of dedicated, fully-trained volunteers to teach the foundations of horsemanship, equine behavior, and horseback riding. Participating veterans are assigned a horse to work with over the course of a four- or eight-week session. During each class, the veterans learn more about their horses, have opportunities to bond with them, and are presented with challenging tasks to accomplish.

Horses Helping Heroes Project volunteers shared techniques from Jim Masterson's book with veterans at a recent clinic.

Horses Helping Heroes Project volunteers shared techniques from Jim Masterson’s book with veterans at a recent clinic.

TSB thinks the HHHP is a wonderful and important effort to help the men and women who bravely serve our country rediscover themselves through horses. We were thrilled to find out that Jim Masterson’s book BEYOND HORSE MASSAGE was being used as a teaching tool by HHHP volunteers, and we’d like to share a little about how the Masterson Method was recently introduced to veterans during an HHHP class, described in the following article (for information on how you can help support the HORSES HELPING HEROES PROJECT, see link at end of article):

THANK YOU! From the Horses Helping Heroes Project

It started out as a written request for permission to reproduce some copyrighted materials to give to our veterans after a class demonstration. The topic was Chapter 4, the Bladder Meridian Technique from Jim Masterson’s book Beyond Horse Massage. It turned into a generous gift from Trafalgar Square Books, 10 copies of Mr. Masterson’s book so each of our veterans could have their own!

The demonstration was conducted by a volunteer with the the Horses Helping Heroes Project (HHHP), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which offers equine-assisted activities and therapies to veterans with special needs and disabilities. The volunteer had been successfully applying the techniques found in the book on her own horse and agreed to give a presentation as part of the HHHP class lecture series. Seven eager veterans along with a contingent of volunteers practiced “air gap” pressure on their own arms and even got to pet a raw egg yolk to understand just how little pressure is needed to help relieve tension in a horse. The trick is using just enough pressure to work on areas holding tension without setting off a defensive response. Our airmen like to refer to it as “flying under the radar.”

Pooter, a Morgan mare, was then brought out for a live demonstration. Little did we know just how much tension she was storing! As the hand slowly followed the Bladder Meridian there was much quivering of the whiskers, twitching of the lips, blinking of the eyes, licking and chewing. Slowly her head dropped a little, then a little more and finally she cocked one of her hind legs. We could almost hear her say “Ahhhh that feels soooooo good!”

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Next there was hands-on time for the veterans with other horses. The veterans met with equal success; everyone was feeling good! Just as horses have “real” names and “barn” names so does the Bladder Meridian Technique. We call it “Magic Fingers” and it is now offered as an activity with each class.

The mission of HHHP is to empower military and first-responder veterans to face the challenges of mental, emotional and physical wounds and to assist them in creating active, healthier and more fulfilling lives through equine-assisted activities and therapies. Thank you Trafalagar Square Books for helping us meet that goal.

To learn more about the Horses Helping Heroes Project please visit our website www.horseshelpingheroesproject.com or visit us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheHHHP).

Rupert Isaacson and His “Horse Boy Method” Meet with Claudine Pelletier-Milet, Author of RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM

Claudine Pelletier-Milet, author of RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, with Rupert Isaacson, author of THE HORSE BOY.

Claudine Pelletier-Milet, author of RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, with Rupert Isaacson, author of THE HORSE BOY.

“On one occasion, Steven was as usual carried away with the thrill of riding,” Claudine Pelletier-Milet writes in her book RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. “He leaped off without losing his balance and in the most agile way. He rushed up to his mother, crying out, ‘Mom!’ and they hugged each other. His mother later told me that this was the first time she had experienced such a fond embrace.”

It seemed only a matter of time before Claudine had a chance to meet and work with Rupert Isaacson, author of the international bestselling book The Horse Boy, which tells the story of his and his wife’s journey across Mongolia on horseback to find healing for their son and for themselves as a family after their son, Rowan, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. Rupert recounts how something extraordinary happened when Rowan encountered a neighbor’s horse—a new, profound calm fell over him. Rupert saw that his distant, unreachable son had a real connection with the horse, and when he began riding with Rowan, his son began to improve remarkably.

Claudine and Steven, one of her students.

Claudine and Steven, one of her students.

For years, Claudine, a French riding instructor, has been using equine-assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) to form and nurture lines of communication while encouraging a healthy and natural evolution of self in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Rupert read her book RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM and arranged to meet with her in France to discuss their common experiences, her methods, and his own Horse Boy Method, which is now being taught around the world in order to better help children with ASD. Astoundingly, today one child for every 88 born, and one boy for every 58, will be diagnosed as on the autism spectrum.

“We don’t try to teach riding as they do in regular therapeutic riding barns because autistic kids learn differently, so our program is tailored to that,” Rupert says in the December 2012 article “The Horse Boy Method” in Dressage Today magazine. “We are not an equestrian center. If a kid emerges as a rider, we go with it, otherwise we hope that we and our horses can serve them in the best way we can.”

Similarly, Claudine simply strives to use horses as a conduit to learning to exist in our loud, tactile, “real world,” which every day presents the autistic child with challenges.

“The pony carries them, rocks them, favors the acceptance of physical contact, and understands their efforts at communication,” writes Claudine in RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. “It helps them build up an image of themselves by causing their posture to rectify itself, and it gives them free lessons in sensory awareness with its smells, sights, and sounds. It opens them to the real world.”



The experiences both Rupert and Claudine have shared in their books, and continue to share in their work with children and with other teachers, can go a long way to giving families and caregivers great hope for every autistic child’s future.

As always, it is the horse that gives us what we need to be strong, grow as individuals, and care for one another.

RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM is available from the TSB online bookstore.




Read the December 2012  article about Rupert Isaacson and the Horse Boy Method in Dressage Today by clicking on the image below:

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Horseback Riding–Opening New Doors for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders

In April, National Autism Awareness Month, Trafalgar Square Books was pleased to release RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM, a new book that chronicles one riding teacher’s experiences using equine-assisted activities and therapy to instill confidence and promote independence in children with autism spectrum disorders.

RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM was originally published in the French language, but we at TSB felt the author’s inspirational stories of the challenges and joys she experiences in her work with children and ponies worth sharing. We hope it can serve as one more window through which we can begin to understand the autistic individual and what helps him or her develop a sense of self and learn to communicate with others.

The cover of the English edition of RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM features a wonderful photo taken by Kenan Cooper of a young man named Matthew, on a lovely horse, with his arms outstretched and a huge smile on his face. Matt began riding horses when he was four years old. But until then, Matt spent most of his time on the floor, lying on the couch, or in bed. He did not have the core strength to stay in an upright position. He could not kick, catch, or throw a ball—all simple things that many parents watch their small children do with ease.

When Matt began riding at Wings & Hooves Therapeutic Riding, Inc, of East Kingston, New Hampshire, “I began to witness a miracle unfold,” says Matt’s grandmother. “The riding brought such inner peace to Matthew. He went home happy and so proud of what he did with his horse each day. Over time, he sat up straight for longer and longer periods on horseback, and today, his instructor and side-walkers tell me Matt sits up for the entire lesson. The benefits of his therapeutic riding are immeasurable. For one hour a week, it is just Matt and his horse—a creature who in no way judges him, but supports him in mind, body, and spirit.”

The horse Matt is riding on the cover of RIDING ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM is Khlassic, an Arabian gelding who left behind his successful career showing in halter and hunter-pleasure classes to help new riders at Wings & Hooves (www.wingsandhooves.org), become GREAT riders, full of confidence and ready to do anything to which they set their mind.

“While the benefits of therapeutic riding and horsemanship activities have been medically documented, statistics alone cannot fully describe the true value of this service,” explains Karen Cuneo, founder and lead instructor of Wings & Hooves. “The look of confidence, pride, and achievement on a student’s face when they have successfully completed a task on horseback is the most profound measure of its value. The skills gained and abilities discovered at Wings & Hooves enrich life-skill development in each of our students. Such life skills are important, not only to the student and his or her family today, but the future and the greater good of community.”

Karen was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus at the age of 20, and has received three subsequent kidney transplants, so she has experienced firsthand the powerful, healing nature of the horse.

At Wings & Hooves Therapeutic Riding, Inc, children and adults discover how working with horses can help them surmount all manner of personal challenges.

“Throughout my illnesses and recovery periods,” she says, “I realized that when I was with my horses and riding, I didn’t think about anything else but the horse I was with—not work, not life, not my illness or the circumstances surrounding the illness…my vision was then very clear: I wanted to share the magic of the horse with others facing their own personal challenges—whatever they may be. As I say to my riders, ‘Your eyes are the horse’s eyes’…your horse sees, feels, and reacts through you…they are a mirror of you. People of all ages can comprehend this, and the trust, bond, and relaxation begins.”

Wings & Hooves Therapeutic Riding, Inc, provides therapeutic horseback instruction to children and adults with physical, emotional, and developmental challenges. You can find out more about instruction, special events, and opportunities to volunteer on their website www.wingsandhooves.org.