by Maria Spiliopoulou
LARISSA, Greece, June 24 (Xinhua) -- Without saddle on the back of Pegasus, a nine-year-old horse, seven-year-old Jason was riding Pegasus only by holding onto the handles.
Without any hint, few would figure out that it's only the second horse-riding session of the little boy.
Jason is one of the students of a horse-riding center at the foot of Kissavos (or Ossa), the second highest mountain in Greece, about 200 km north of the capital Athens.
Different from other horse-riding center, this one run by Iphigenia Petridou offers therapeutic horse-riding sessions to clients, both children and adults with special needs or disabilities.
"It is an approach which offers many benefits, because the individuals have a very strong motive and this helps enormously in learning," Petridou told Xinhua about the equine-assisted therapy.
Just before starting a session with Jason, Petridou explained the missing of a saddle on Pegasus.
There was no saddle so that there was direct contact between the rider and the horse, said the horse-riding instructor.
"We make the most of this bonding between them (students and horses) and we try to teach the students and improve various shortcomings they have and difficulties," she said.
Jason was apparently excited instead of scared on the back of Pegasus despite the missing of saddle.
"Each person has an entirely different progress. It may take a child about one month to be able to get close to the horse and touch it, because many kids who are at the specter of autism have sensory problems with touching. It is very difficult for them to touch. Other children have fear of height," the horse expert explained.
Despite the varied progresses and reactions of the learners, there's a common ground for them, an improvement of their problems after the horse-riding program.
"I have made some research on this. I have measured kinetic parameters after five months of participation in a therapeutic horse riding program and I have proved the benefits in movement," Petridou said.
Petridou, a young Athenian with studies in Greece and France, moved to Metaxochori, a village of 1,000 residents near Larissa, to launch her center and start a family eight years ago.
She has witnessed numerous cases, in which people had significant improvement after a period of training.
"The change is immediately evident in the body's posture and it becomes the new norm in their everyday life," she said.
After a few sessions, persons with difficulties in walking show remarkable progress, according to Petridou.
The horse's rhythmical motion moves the riders' bodies in such a manner that they are constantly adjusting the movement of their pelvis, strengthening muscle tone, coordination and balance, she explained.
But Petridou was not the inventor of this horse-riding therapy.
Actually, the therapeutic value of horse riding for individuals with disabilities was well known to the Greeks as early as the fifth century B.C., according to scholars.
Historians quote the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, the so-called "Father of Medicine", as saying "Riding in clean air strengthens body muscles and keeps them in good form," according to the Therapeutic Riding Association of Greece.
Equine-assisted therapy to promote physical and mental health in its modern form, as hippotherapy or therapeutic horse riding, dates back to the 1960s. Several scientific surveys since then have shown the beneficial effects on disabled riders.