Equine Progressive

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Zenyatta: Hippotherapy in the Shedrow

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Being the greatest race mare in history isn’t enough for Zenyatta. She also acts as a therapeutic partner for a child with autism, as The Blood-Horse reports.

Courtesy Santa Anita press

Step back for a second and consider whether or not you’d just fearlessly walk up to a 17 hand, fighting-fit Thoroughbred racehorse.

And then imagine the 5 year-old boy who does so.

Jack, who has autism and lives, as his father says, “in a distant world,” loves Zenyatta. A lot of us love Zenyatta – but it’s unlikely that she’d allow anyone else the closeness that she affords Jack – not knowing how to pet her, trainer John Shirreffs explains, Jack pokes his finger into her side and screams to express his happiness.

Jack’s father says that just mentioning Zenyatta makes the distant child “glow with happiness and jump up and down.”

Nationally, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) has more than 6,300 equines on its rosters, from minis to mules and every sort of breed in between, and in 2009 NARHA organizations assisted more than 40,000 participants. Interestingly, autism was the number one special need served by NARHA centers. Rapidly growing in diagnosis and still a mystery in its many forms, children with autism seem especially attuned to horses – and horses to them.

Zenyatta’s acceptance of this little boy in her life is just one more example of that old saying: horses know.


Written by Natalie Keller Reinert

March 26, 2010 at 12:56 am

7 Responses

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  1. Amazing creatures, aren’t they.
    My four-year old (ex-stud colt) Tad stood like a statue when my 4 year old nephew snuck into his stall, scaring the CRAP out of me, of course.
    They were fine. Nephew wanted to feed him some hay. He came up to Tad’s knee. Tad had never met him before.

    Tad would chase cats/dogs.
    Not my tiny, oh, so special nephew.
    They do know.
    The great ones, anyway.


    March 26, 2010 at 8:13 am

    • Oh, Tad! That’s so sweet to picture. Big colt peering down at the little creetur: “Oh – and you have hay? Well -”
      Thanks for sharing, that’s lovely!

      Natalie Keller Reinert

      March 26, 2010 at 11:16 am

  2. What a wonderful, wonderful mare! She is just amazing in so many ways.

    I’m linking to this post on my blog, fyi. It’s too good not to share.


    March 26, 2010 at 9:38 am

    • Thank you, Jenn! The great ones seem to be right in every way.

      Natalie Keller Reinert

      March 26, 2010 at 10:59 am

  3. Literally awesome. Inspiring. Kudos to the humans who facilitate this happening. Yet another reason I admire Zenyatta.

    Fiona Farrell

    March 26, 2010 at 10:50 am

    • Good point – we should really be looking to people like Mr. Shirreffs and the others that brought Jack and Zenyatta together. Most people would see no reason to allow a relationship between a World Champion mare and a five-year-old boy. Zenyatta’s connections clearly appreciate how much more she has to give besides her insane speed.

      Natalie Keller Reinert

      March 26, 2010 at 11:02 am

  4. […] in Therapy The story about Zenyatta and her little friend Jack, who has autism, has had me thinking about Thoroughbreds and the role that they play in helping […]

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