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In Panambi, SOS Children's Villages has a community which looks after children purely special needs. There are eight family houses for up to 60 handicapped children who come from all over Paraguay, particularly the rural areas … more about our charity work in Paraguay

Healing with horses

Horseback riding is a therapeutic method being used to help the development of children with special needs in Paraguay
Horseback riding is a therapeutic method being used to help the development of children with special needs in Paraguay

At the San Ignacio Village in Paraguay, a large horse named Mafalda is helping children with special needs. Riding the magnificent animal helps children achieve a calm, peaceful state-of-mind. Mafalda is assisting therapists at the SOS Village treat children with everything from Down syndrome to visual impairment.

For a child living with a disability, animals can offer a level of comfort few humans can. Although animal therapy is widely accepted, choosing the right animal and training is extremely important. Over recent years, a growing number of therapists have recognised the therapeutic characteristics of horses. These brilliant beasts are known for their obedient and kind spirit, which allows for a special bond with the children. Through horseback-riding, children improve their physical, psychological and social development.

Horsing around at SOS Children’s Village

Horse therapy is a new programme at the San Ignacio Village. The children participating in the programme come from the neighbouring SOS Village, Panambi – a Village that was designed for children living with disabilities. Nearly 40 children of all ages ride Mafalda twice a week. The children live with Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, physical disabilities, autism and visual impairment.

A boy rides Mafalda, a therapy horse at the SOS Children's Village in San Ignacio, Paraguay
Therapy horse Mafalda, is helping children improve their physical, psychological and social development
Caring for the horse and learning how to horseback ride, gives the children a sense of responsibility and builds their self-esteem. Horseback riding strengthens core muscles, which improves mobility, posture, coordination and balance.

Treatment outcomes include:

  • Relieving anxiety and improving the children’s mood
  • Improving their memory and their ability to stay focused, their self-esteem, self confidence and self-control
  • Improving and increasing their oral communication skills
  • Strengthening their muscles and joints, and improving balance.

When the programme started in April, the children were nervous to interact with the horse. The therapists slowly introduced Mafalda to ensure everyone felt comfortable. Today, the children look forward to their therapy with Mafalda, who they now consider a friend.

Horse therapy is not the only type of therapy the children are offered at the Panambi Village. All of the SOS mothers are specially trained to deal with the special needs of their children. In addition, an on-site rehabilitation centre provides children a variety of therapy options, such as physio and speech therapy.

Animal therapy at other SOS Villages

Animal therapy is being used at other SOS Children’s Villages. At the Mersch Village in Luxembourg, children interact with therapy farm animals. And, at the Vilnius Village in Lithuania, a relaxed golden retriever attentively listens as children read and reveal their feelings – which improve children’s self-confidence and anxiety.

Many of the children who live at our Villages come from traumatic backgrounds. Therapy animals offer no judgement and make for life-long friends. Find out more about what life is like at an SOS Children's Village.