A few children were curious, a few others apprehensive. Some sat secure, and some were cautious. One or two waved and upped their thumbs at friends sitting in the gallery, while many others just enjoyed sitting on the horseback, perhaps for the first time in their life.

Coming out of the classroom proved to be a greater learning experience for many of the children with special needs at the Asha School, Artillery Centre, Golconda, where the city’s first ever Equine Therapy Park was launched on Wednesday.

Inaugurated by the Deputy Director, Family Welfare Organisation, Artillery Centre, Archana Sharma, the park has two trained horses to carry the children, along with two handlers. Each child was assisted over a podium onto the horseback, and allowed to take in the fun of equine saunter around the field, stopping occasionally to play a game of ball or to pluck leaves from tree-branches, as per the directions by the coaches.

“Horse gait is similar in rhythm to human gait, and renders balance to the body movements. Among special children, equine therapy is known to improve eye-hand coordination, attention span and concentration. Learning outdoors, social interaction, and bonding with an animal improve their cognitive abilities,” said Pushpa P. Bopaiah, the Equine Therapist from Bangalore who offered technical assistance in setting up the facility here.

Therapeutic riding will help children with disabilities such as multiple sclerosis, Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, attention deficit disorder, and autism, by strengthening their posture, exercising their muscles, improving their attention and thereby boosting their confidence levels, she said.

Each session lasts for 45 minutes, which includes warm up exercises, riding in the arena and outdoor riding, and playing games on the horseback. The park is open for all the 33 children being trained at the Asha School, half of whom are from families below poverty line, said D.D. Bhagat, the officer in charge of the school. The training module consists of three stages, walk, trot and canter. First stage consists basics, while the last stage will ready the children for competitions, Ms. Bopaiah said.

This is the fourth such facility in the country, with the first three having been set up in Ambala, Kolkata and Delhi. Asha Schools were chosen as they are better equipped to run such facilities, Ms. Bopaiah said.

“I have been doing it for the last 12 years in Bangalore. My ultimate dream is to see India participating in the Equestrian sport of the Special Olympics,” she said.