One of the horses, Zara, with pupils and principal Bilkees Musthafa.   
Picture:  Leon Lestrade
One of the horses, Zara, with pupils and principal Bilkees Musthafa. Picture: Leon Lestrade

Horse therapy helps pupils with concentration at Phoenix school

By CHARLENE SOMDUTH Time of article published Sep 6, 2019

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Durban - STAFF members at The Special Needs School in Phoenix are using equine (horse) therapy to improve the concentration and self-esteem of pupils.

The horses, Zara and Yusra, were donated to the school, which operates from Swanvale Primary, by Camperdown horse breeders Tommy’s Arabians.

The principal, Bilkees Musthafa, said they catered for pupils with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, muscular dystrophy, brain injury, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

Musthafa explained that children with learning disabilities, or those who suffered from disorders, were often withdrawn and lacked confidence.

“From my research into equine therapy, I found that riding horses targets these challenges by improving concentration, self-confidence and self-esteem.”

It also assisted with hand-and-eye co-ordination and concentration.

“We had a blind pupil, who did not allow anyone to touch her, but when she was placed on the horse, she became calmer. She later became comfortable with people holding her hand or hugging her. Other children, who did not speak, were encouraged to use words to tell the horses what to do.”

Once the children began to use the appropriate words, including the horse’s name, Musthafa said they gained confidence.

“This led to further speech development and the development of social skills.

“The riding of the horse trains the body to move correctly and to develop muscles and co-ordination that will assist in standing and walking,” she said.

“Before introducing the therapy to pupils, I spent six months learning about the breed and how we need to take care of them. They are Arabian horses and are an intelligent breed.”

Zara and Yusra are kept on vacant land at Swanvale Primary. Musthafa built a stable and raised the height of the fence. They have approval from the SPCA, Metro police, and the eThekwini Municipality to keep the horses.

The principal of Swanvale Primary, Nash Singh, said The Special Needs School operated from a vacant classroom block. He said he allowed the project to be run from the premises as there were insufficient schools for the differently-abled.

The Special Needs School runs independently. There are seven staff members and it has a pupil enrolment of 60. The children range in age from 4 to 16.


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