Morgan gelding honored as Therapy Horse of the Year

Chico at work with a young rider.
Chico at work with a young rider.

A 24-year-old morgan cross gelding named Chico has been honored as the Therapy Horse of the Year by the American Hippotherapy Association.

Chico, who has been a therapy horse for 17 years, works at Central Kentucky Riding for Hope (CKyRH), a facility at the Kentucky Horse Park. He was nominated by Lisa Harris, a licensed physical therapist at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington. CKyRH partners with the Cardinal Hill for physical, occupational and speech therapists to use hippotherapy as a treatment strategy.

Chico is one of the most popular horses at Central Kentucky Riding for Hope.

“Chico loves his job and all the people involved,” Harris said. “He bonds with the horse handlers and will give his all for those who have the knowledge. With less experienced handlers, he tries to teach them. He also is extremely focused on his clients, often stepping underneath the client to re-balance them, yet never missing a beat.”

CKyRH is home to 29 horses, and Chico is one of the most seasoned and popular horses. The bay gelding is a dependable asset for working with children and adults with special physical, cognitive, emotional and social needs.

Chico, a 15hh former trail horse, has been on TV, in magazines, newspaper and even a film that was presented to the Kentucky Legislature in 2003 to explain why people with disabilities should be included in their communities.

Chico provides excellent rhythm in his walk, which makes him well suited for hippotherapy. Rhythmic movement is key for a therapy horse because rhythm impacts many human functions including walking, speech, respiration, digestion and sleep.

“Chico’s balanced conformation allows him to produce quality movement at all gaits,” Harris said. “His walk, however, is his best gait. He has a huge walk for a small horse. He is extremely adjustable. These characteristics enable Chico to work with a wide range of patients with different diagnoses.”

Selection for the American Hippotherapy Association honor is a detailed process. Harris said the application required pictures displaying Chico’s conformation, videos of his movement, reference letters and a profile of his career.

CKyRH Executive Director Pat Kline said the organisation was proud of the recognition Chico’s award brought to the program.

“It takes a special horse to be a therapy horse,” Kline said, “and our staff and therapists are great at recognizing these traits and building on them. Chico has been a true gem since he arrived.”

Chico is owned by Elizabeth Skelton.

Chico provides excellent rhythm in his walk, which makes him well suited for hippotherapy.
Chico provides excellent rhythm in his walk, which makes him well suited for hippotherapy.

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