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Horseplay

Teddy’s job is to help adults and children with physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities. He helps them learn trust, self-acceptance and confidence. It’s a lot to ask of anyone, but that’s his job. His clients are sometimes stubborn, frail, frightened, frustrated or impetuous. But he must be strong and patient with them. And he is, because that’s his nature.

When the workday is over, Teddy likes to get outdoors and kick a ball. Sometimes he likes to toss around a toy, or just run in the grass. Teddy knows how to have fun.

Incidentally, Teddy is a horse.

He works at High Hopes, a therapeutic riding facility in Old Lyme. Unless you own a horse (or have a horse-friend), you may not know that horses can have as much fun as a puppy in a sandbox.

For example, Tony and Albe are Belgian draft horses, a noble breed able to pull tremendous weight, and still used as working horses in many parts of the world. These two, however, live a lazy life on private acreage in Old Lyme with Al and Christine Bond, and Cora the barn cat. The horses are normally the honey color of a yellow lab. But sometimes, when Christine looks out at the pasture and sees her horses amiably grazing, things don’t look quite right. “Sometimes, it looks like I have one seriously brown horse,” she says. “Albe loves to roll in the mud.”

“Jacques likes to jump,” says Maggie Wroe, a student at Quinnipiac University School of Law. Jacques is her 18-year-old French thoroughbred. They’ve been competing since Jacques was six. Grooming Jacques in his stable at McCulloch Farm in Old Lyme, she says. “We are each other’s herd.” And when you’re that close, you know what makes your teammate happy.

“He gets so excited when he’s jumping,” Wroe says. “My trainers keep raising the bar to see our limit, and when the jumps are really high, Jacques gets so fired up. He hops and gives little kicks after landing. He likes romping with the dogs, too.” And when they all find themselves in the water? Jacques paws at it and splashes. It’s the textbook definition of horseplay – or should be.

“Horses need to play,” says Holly Sundmacker, Equine Operations Director at High Hopes. “Horses are a prey animal. In the wild, they’re always aware that there are coyotes and mountain lions and wolves who want to eat them, and humans who want to capture them.”

No wonder horses are skittish.

“Sometimes a beach ball isn’t going to do it,” adds Sundmacker. “Horses are smart. They can learn to unlatch gates and take down fences. But terror is instinctual. You have to engage their minds to distract them from that terror.”

“I bought a toy for my horse,” Sundmacker says. “It’s a hollow tube that you can put treats inside. The horse has to figure out what to do to get the treats out. My horse loves it,” she says.

We all know the iconic image of a powerful stallion against the blue Montana sky. Turns out it couple be just a nervous horse that would give anything for a couple hundred fenced-in acres…and a beach ball.

Image Credits: Shutterstock

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