Whispering Manes is an equine-assisted therapy program in Miami, FL. Erin Bower, the executive director at Whispering Manes, describes it as a place where people with a wide range of disabilities are welcome to work with horses, with the hope of encouraging physical, mental, and emotional healing and strengthening. That healing only happens through the work of an amazing staff and connections formed with some incredible horses.
The people who come out to visit have many different struggles. Some of them seek to improve their confidence, others have physical disabilities, or emotional challenges, and equine-assisted therapy has something for every single one of them. Christina DeQuesada, volunteer and special education professional, says that you can see a bit of every type of therapy at Whispering Manes. She compares it to aspects of occupational, physical, and even emotional therapy. Learning to ride a horse can positively touch a number of different elements of anyone’s life.
Robin Bramson, the Head Riding Instructor and Program Director, explained how much riding a horse can improve a person’s communication, both verbally and nonverbally. She says, “A horse gives you immediate feedback and it’s nonjudgmental…horses are herd animals and they have no spoken language so they depend on reading body language of other horses.” She continues, “They depend on reading body language of people for their survival.” Robin says that all of the little things you do on a horse can translate into life skills that can be used out of the saddle — the way you’re talking to other riders and people around you, and the way you’re signaling the horse. All of those things add up to make a very special experience that’s hard to find with any other animal.
Jenny rides horses at Whispering Manes. She brushes them. She helps feed them and care for them. She’s also legally blind, and overcoming low self-esteem. Riding horses makes her feel better about herself.
Jenny started coming to Whispering Manes as a volunteer. She served as a side walker, helping riders maintain correct form while on the horse. But she still had her own confidence issues, and serving as a side walker wasn’t helping with those. She wanted to be on the horses.
Then one of the staff members told her that her legally blind status might allow her to take lessons with Whispering Manes. Since then Jenny has taken several lessons. She says that in under a year’s time she’s gone from hardly being able to get on the horse by herself to performing various balance exercises. She’s not just riding, she’s getting good at riding. She’s building her confidence, and she’s building a connection with the horses she rides.
That connection is one of the most important things to Jenny. The horses feel like friends to her, and she can’t believe the level of trust they have in their riders. Jenny says, “I mean it’s just cool because it’s this huge animal, you know, and you’re able to have a bond and a trust with it.”
Javier and Ben
Eleven years ago, Javier lived in his home country of Spain. Eleven years ago, Javier was paralyzed from the waist down after a car accident crushed part of his spinal cord. Even after surgery to repair the damage, he was told that walking would be unlikely. Even his parents had reservations about his recovery.
Javier didn’t accept that. He moved across the Atlantic to Miami, FL to pursue a heavy physical therapy program. That’s when he was introduced to Whispering Manes, and the people and horses there.
Whispering Manes is a therapeutic riding program in Miami, FL. They work with people who have different levels of horse riding ability and who have varying types of disabilities. His physical therapist highly recommended that he attend classes — or almost forced him to attend, to hear Javier put it.
It was clear to the staff at Whispering Manes that Javier wasn’t a horse person. The horses didn’t care, they helped anyway. He may not have liked the idea of working with horses at first, but it was hard not to notice how much improvement he was making. Javier’s attitude toward the horses has gone from sour to a cautious optimism, and that only seems to keep improving as his connection grows stronger with the horse he works with most, Ben.
Ben is a cross between a draft horse and a paint horse, and Erin, the executive director at Whispering Manes, describes him as having the best qualities of both. Ben is the second horse that Javier has worked with at Whispering Manes, and he’s the horse that Javier has had the deepest connection with. Javier even refers to Ben as a friend — something he never expected to call any of the horses before starting. And now all of the hours of therapy with Ben and on his own are paying off for Javier. He recently took his first step under his own power since the accident. He’s confident there will be many more.
Learn more about the programs at Whispering Manes