Horse Therapy: Healing Ukraine’s War Amputees
The Ukrainian military has been sending its amputated soldiers to a rehabilitation center in Lviv, in western Ukraine. However, it doesn’t look like the usual rehabilitation facilities we are used to—it’s a horse farm.
The horse farm offers hippotherapy: a type of physical therapy based on riding horses. A growing number of Ukrainian amputees—both fighters and civilians—have been going there to recover from both external and internal wounds.
Hippotherapy is a type of physical therapy based on riding horses.
Danylo Ischenko is one of the Ukrainian soldiers benefiting from horse therapy. After five sessions, Ischenko told The Washington Post that his mental state is improving. And he likes how he feels his legs and back muscles are getting stronger.
Furthermore, he said that his nervous system has significantly calmed down; he no longer suffers from nightmares.
Ischenko’s goal for his horse therapy sessions is to be strong enough to eventually travel to the US to acquire a bionic leg and be ready to walk down the aisle to marry his fiancée.
The founders of the horse farm in Sukhodil village near Lviv—husband and wife Vasyl Irkha, 50, and Oleksandra Khandodina, 42—found each other thanks to horse therapy. He was a wounded soldier, and she worked at the horse farm.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, the tandem worked mainly with children suffering from post-traumatic stress. They also had a farm in Poltava, central Ukraine. Now they specialize in treating Ukraine’s wounded soldiers through a project called “Ride to the Future.”
Amputees require specialized care to prevent infections, phantom limb pain, and heart problems, among other complications. According to Irkha, hippotherapy uses yoga techniques and physical exercises to help people with limb loss regain their balance, strength, and flexibility.
Hippotherapy or horse therapy uses yoga techniques and physical exercises to help people with limb loss regain their balance, strength, and flexibility.
Besides the physical benefits of horse therapy, participants also report emotional healing. They can heal physiological and psychological traumas and learn to take pride in their resilience by connecting with the animals and pushing themselves with physical exercises. In an interview with The Washington Post, Irkha said that horse therapy shows participants the possibility that life can go on although they have lost a limb.
Horse therapy shows participants the possibility that life can go on although they have lost a limb.
Irkha himself has experienced the benefits of horse therapy. After Russia’s 2014 invasion, Irkha fought for three years in eastern Ukraine. He returned with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), back pain, and heart issues.
He was introduced to horse therapy when an acquaintance asked him to help with a program at a nearby horse farm. It was also on this horse farm where he met his wife, Khandodina, who worked there. The now-married couple moved west when this year’s Russian invasion began, and they began tailoring treatment programs to amputees.
What do you think of hippotherapy? Is this something you'd like to try?