Desired traits include: soundness; three good, clear gaits at the walk, trot and canter; nice temperament; ability to tolerate attention by many people; low flight response; and a height of 14 hands to 16 hands in order to serve children and adult riders. Sweet temperament and low flight response–all of which are required to give clients a safe and physically beneficial riding experience.
Well-schooled horses of any discipline, whether English or western, are preferred for therapy. The horses¹ manners on the ground during grooming, tacking and leading are valued.
Once a horse is deemed a good candidate to be on trial for a therapy program, the horse is exposed to all aspects of the riding classes. They are taught to be led in a manner that encourages the horse to walk beside the leader¹s shoulder and speed up and slow down in response to the leader¹s body language and rhythm. The horses on trial must also be exposed to various loud noises, such as music, toys and riders with enthusiasm. In addition, the horses are exposed to various assistive teaching devices, such as batons, rings, toys and flags being either handled by the volunteer or carried by the rider.
All exposure to new and different circumstances would be introduced slowly and with positive reinforcement when the horses react in a calm and accepting way. Any aspects of the riding classes that the horses will be exposed to must be practiced and tested until the horses accept the class environment with a calm, non-fearful demeanor.
Horses coming into a therapy program should be functionally sound at the walk, trot and canter. However, the horses¹ work is generally slow and mostly at the walk and trot. The horses do not need to move as they did in their prime but do need to be able to function with a four-beat walk, two-beat rhythmical trot and three-beat canter. Horses that are chronically lame do not have the desired movement to create the three-dimensional walk desired for therapy. This is also not fair to the horse.
If any horse is no longer useful to the program or the program is no longer good for the horse, then the horse is first offered back to the donor. If the donor is not able to take the horse back, then the TRC looks for a retirement home for the horse. The ideal home would be with someone who has some pasture, someone in need of a companion horse, or someone in need of a wonderful horse that they would like to spend time grooming and fussing over.