MRT News

Oreo the extraordinary therapy pony

Oreo is no ordinary therapy pony. With a flowing black mane and tail, and majestic stature, he’s been likened to fictional stallion Black Beauty! Oreo is a rather extraordinary therapy pony, in fact he’s a mechanical pony!  Read on to discover more about Oreo thanks to one of our participants, Adam, and Coach, Nicky.

 

Frank, Adam’s Dad

“I just thought I’d take a little moment to express my feelings for Oreo the mechanical therapy horse. Initially when my son Adam was paired with Oreo, I was a little sceptical. However, therapeutically, Adam has come on leaps and bounds with far quicker progress than previously on flesh and blood horses. A Mechanical horse has far more benefits than negatives. Mucking out is so much easier, the feed bill is far less and in my opinion the therapeutic value is far greater than its equine cousin. It’s far easier to pinpoint a child with mobility issues such as my son, and localise that movement in a required area. It’s easier to repeat that action and so to tick objectives and track progression, ultimately enhancing mobility and confidence.  The staff certainly enjoy seeing results.

In these days of total inclusion Oreo fits this brief perfectly. No child, no matter how challenging their disability, will ever hear, “Sorry this isn’t for you” something they’re unfortunately told on a daily basis. With a tighter structure to the room, hoist aids and supervising hands literally millimetres away, it’s really obvious to me.”

Oreo Coach Nicky

“Muirfield Riding Therapy is fortunate enough to have Oreo the mechanical horse, to be able to use for therapy riding, alongside our four-legged herd.  We think Oreo looks at bit like [fictional character] Black Beauty!”  

Oreo was added to our herd in 2017, thanks to an incredible donation. He is a horse-shaped, high tech piece of physiotherapy equipment responds to leg and hand movements like a real horse.  He is an important part of our Service, offering benefits to Participants and Therapists.  Oreo helps our Physiotherapists with Riders’ biomechanics assessments, offering top of the range postural analysis to improve muscle tone, strength and symmetry.

In November 2020, Oreo was moved into his new larger ‘stable’ thanks to long-awaited renovations.  Our NHS partnership, The Children’s Therapeutic Riding Service Team were able to restart their sessions again, paused due to COVID-19, by using Oreo for now to simulate the equine experience!

New Oreo sessions

And now, Oreo is used in various sessions, and in a brand new Oreo-only therapeutic riding session on Wednesday evenings, with our Oreo Coach Nicky. Nicky explains why Oreo really is an extraordinary therapy pony,

“Our aim is always to make any riding or equine therapy experience at MRT fun, no matter which type of horse is being ridden.  Often, I hear participants, parents and carers exclaim in delight that this week that they are going to “play” on Oreo.  Oreo is linked to a screen in front of him which allows his riders to choose from a range of scenic rides which they can enjoy, virtually!  There is no doubt that there is something wonderful that happens when participants can ride via the simulations to either splash in the sea, go around a lake and castle, or ride through a zoo with elephants trumpeting!  

However, Oreo is sometimes perceived as a second best option to riding a real horse.  But both are of equal value in terms of offering therapy riding.  A horse has an intuitive relationship with its rider, when using aids to change pace, if the rider doesn’t get the ask quite right the horse can second guess the intention and make transitions between paces and movements.  Oreo is a machine and isn’t intuitive.  If the rider doesn’t select the correct aid, then the transitions simply doesn’t happen. This at times can be frustrating, but the look of joy and satisfaction when the rider achieves what they are asked to do is fantastic.  The rider knows without a doubt that they achieved that task by themselves.  

Oreo doesn’t slow for corners, or stop whilst further instruction is given, for the full session the rider is constantly moving, and their muscles being given a through workout.  Hand and eye co-ordination is improved, along with a greater understanding of how to use their bodies as a riding aid. All of which helps them to become better riders if they transition back onto a real horse. 

Oreo also has a dressage element, which can be challenging to master. It’s often the only opportunity some of our riders will get to experience canter and learn how to do more technical dressage riding such as flying changes and piaffes.

I often tell my riders when I coach them, if you can do it on Oreo then you will be able to do it on a real horse.  Oreo is fun, it can be difficult, but it certainly isn’t the second-best option to riding, both have equal merit and a place in providing riding therapy.”   

Why not give it a try!