Sometimes horses make the best doctors

 
 
 

When she was just nine years old, Jacky du Plessis’ parents divorced. She started horse riding to get over the break, finding solace, comfort and safety in the bonds she formed with the animals. As she grew older, her love for them developed, as did her desire to create positive change. Wanting to use her passion for these animals and her knowledge of their therapeutic characteristics to make a difference, Du Plessis started working with horses as a form of therapy and rehabilitation for people with disabilities as well as victims of abuse and emotional trauma. Since 2009, she has used her work to help horses heal humans.

Having started as a volunteer, Du Plessis is now a trustee and social media manager for the NPO, Shumbashaba Horses Helping People. She discovered the programme when her own children began vaulting as a way of improving their low muscle tone, and assisted the founder, Sharon Boyce, in setting up the trust. Through the use of hippotherapy for people with disabilities, therapeutic riding, and a non-riding programme which teaches life skills and improves emotional and mental well-being, the organisation has helped over 1600 people. “I’m passionate about the power of horses and their ability to provide healing to people,” Du Plessis says. With the funds collected from private participants in the programme, Shumbashaba has been able to reach out and assist hundreds of children who cannot afford therapy.

While the use of horses as a form of therapy may seem unusual, Du Plessis has seen how successful the method can be. “Horses have been instrumental in our advancement and people forget the role that horses have played in history,” she says. Using the movement of the horses to improve coordination, neurological functioning and physical weaknesses, Shumbashaba has helped people who couldn’t walk get back on their feet. In 2015, two riders who benefitted from the programme represented South Africa at the Special Olympics World Games in 2015. “We can gain so much more when we choose to work with animals instead of against them,” Du Plessis says. Thanks to those volunteers who selflessly dedicate their time to the care of animals, we can all reap the rewards.