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Our local legend

Local therapist M’lani Basson was named a Cape Town Legend at a function in the Mother City last weekend.

Cape Town Legends include top innovators, artists, trailblazers and game changers of the city and surrounds – to introduce them and the work they do as inspiration for others.

M’Lani teaches disabled children how to ride horses as part of the therapeutic programme at the Amado Animal Assisted Therapy Riding Centre, which she started on her parents’ farm in Paarl in 2008.

She is following her dream: to give children with severe disabilities the opportunity to grow – physically, mentally and emotionally, through their interaction with horses.

“I’ve been riding since I was three years old, simply for the exhilarating sense of freedom that riding and being in the moment gives me.”

After studying Art and Psychology at Stellenbosch University, in her final year M’Lani still had no idea what she wanted to do. She decided to travel to Germany as an exchange student. While in the queue to make the arrangements, she overheard two German girls discussing animal assistant therapy.

The idea resonated so deeply that she stepped out of the line, bought a one way ticket to England and left home within two weeks.

M’Lani went on to spend a year and a half in Scotland living on a Palace Estate looking after 200 horses, and helping out at a Riding for the Disabled charity on the adjoining property every chance she got.

With this experience behind her she moved back home and began to physically lay the bricks and foundation to her new home and stables on her parents’ place on the slopes of Paarl Mountain.

“That’s what we do at Amado, we work for free and love the people that we work with. After 11 years of changing lives through the power of animal assisted therapy, I will never look back.’

Amado means “beloved” in Spanish and fits the philosophy of love shared with everybody who comes through the doors.

WHY HORSES

“Horses are the ideal match for this work for two primary reasons – the physical element, and the emotional side. Horses have the closest three dimensional gait to a human walk, so the core gets activated, as can be attested to by anybody who has ridden a horse for more than an hour.”

The horse riding enables children with cerebral palsy or in a wheel chair to move parts of their body that they haven’t moved before in a non-strenuous workout, as the horse carries the load.

M’Lani shares the story of a blind boy who rode for the first time and said he had never felt more free. He did not have to worry about bumping into anything, but rather could simply enjoy the ride.

“He rode for an hour and when he got off had the biggest smile on his face. He was 15 years old the first time he rode and now returns each week, always leaving mesmerised.

“On the emotional side you have this big 450 kg animal who doesn’t judge, but simply accepts you. It doesn’t matter your race, gender, limbs, no limbs, small or heavy. He just accepts you for you. And that is why I use horses.”SUCCESS STORIES

There are many success stories at Amado. Every day is a miracle day.

“There is nothing more important than treating these children like any other child. If you treat a child like you would a bird with a broken wing, he will never be able to fly and that is what Amado is all about.

“Don’t put children in glass cases, or wrap them in cotton wool. I encourage them to be independent. They can, and they do. And they grow.

“We had seven children in wheel chairs when we started, only one still uses their wheel chair as a result of muscular dystrophy.

“Our success with cerebral palsy, relaxation of the muscles and the little bodies becoming more supple with stretching, also means an increase in self-confidence.”

Horseback-riding offers a new visual perspective of the world. It also makes you feel on top of the world.

Most of the beneficiaries in the Amado programme do not have the opportunity or are not able to participate in traditional recreational and sports activities.

Riding and being around horses offers a chance to be successful in a unique activity that others in their community can only dream of. This “I can” approach soon governs all aspects of their daily lives.

The horses at Amado are voice activated.

When M’Lani whistles or makes a subtle movement, they will stop. This is part of the process that teaches the child that they are in charge, even when M’Lani may still be, and empowers them on their road to healing.

The significance of saying stop – and the horse stops – especially for victims of abuse, is immensely powerful.

Amado sees 40 children from different partner organisations within the Paarl area.

“I will never leave, I believe in this country. The Cape Winelands is in my blood, South Africa is. I believe that if we all do good things in our environment a huge difference can be made.”

You too can get involved in the healing of children, by donating to the therapeutic costs of a child and the horses.

For more information visit www.amado.co.za.

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