Anita Shkedi 521.
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
‘I’ve always had a personal need to help people,’ says Anita Shkedi, who founded
INTRA, the Israel National Therapeutic Riding Association with her husband Giora
Shkedi in 2000. Although she has had many other interests in her life,
qualifying and working as a district nurse and health visitor back in England,
horses have always been her first love, and she pioneered the idea of equine
therapy back in the ’80s, when it was a completely new concept in
Coming to settle in Israel has a way of impacting lives and often
changing them, and for Shkedi it has been not so much a change as a
Before she made aliya in 1985 with her first husband,
Michael Boyden, she had been a “rebbetzin,” living with her Reform rabbi husband
and two children, Tanya and Jonathan, in Hale, Cheshire. There, Boyden
was head of the rabbinical side of the reform movement in England, and
officiated at the Menorah congregation in the upscale northern English town near
Together with her work as a health visitor going into the
poorest areas of the industrial north, she was also an active rabbi’s wife, with
an open house for her husband’s flock.
“There was a kind of overflow
between the two jobs,” she says.
When her husband suggested they move to
Israel, she was ready to take the plunge.
“I had reached a point in my
life when I had become a tutor in health visiting, and besides having always
been very Zionistic, I felt it was time to make a change in our lives,” she
The family went to Ra’anana, but almost immediately she and her
husband split up. They each met and married new partners soon after
Boyden went on to found the Ra’anana Reform congregation, and later
moved to Hod Hasharon. Shkedi moved to Moshav Udim after leaving the absorption
center, and subsequently met and married Giora Shkedi, a son of the
It was Givat Haim that she set up her first therapeutic riding
school, later moving to Ne’urim where she still works today. In 1990 their son
Danny was born. Today the family lives in Tel Mond.
The idea for using
horses for therapy developed gradually. She had personally known Rami Keich, a
soldier wounded in Lebanon who was paralyzed from the waist down, and who was
brought back to health through riding when he visited England in
“He said to me when I came to Israel that if I did it for him I can
do it for others,” recalls Shkedi.
In 1993 they all experienced the
terrible pain of losing Jonathan, who was killed in Lebanon.
“He went to
try and rescue another soldier and was badly wounded. Three weeks later he died
in my arms,” she says.
After Jonathan died, Shkedi felt she must go back
to work to bury the pain, and the day after the shiva ended she threw herself
back into the work with added passion.
She began to research the subject
of equine therapy, and today is probably Israel’s leading expert in it. In 2003
she received a master’s degree in education from Liverpool University and is now
working on her doctorate. She was instrumental in creating a diploma course for
therapeutic riding, which since 1988 is taught at the Wingate
“I built the course from a combination of my medical
background and knowledge of horses together with stuff I’d picked up as a
volunteer working with wounded soldiers sent over to England,” she
If you thought that horse-riding was a rather aristocratic activity
reserved for the rich and royal, then you are not keeping up with the times.
Riding a horse has been proven to be very effective in helping the disabled –
both those who are damaged in body and those in soul. It is used in homes for
the mentally disabled as well as for soldiers returning from war.
are two sides to horse-riding therapy,” Shkedi explains. “The physical movement
of the horse is almost identical to walking for the rider and it gives the
person the feeling of walking normally. When anything becomes normal it has an
emotional and psychological effect, as well as physical.
pleasant motion acts to release spasms and tight joints – but it’s more than
that: the rider makes a spiritual connection to the horse and a kind of
non-verbal communication develops between horse and rider. I’ve seen people
change, and grow in confidence and self-esteem.”
Today there are seven
courses for therapeutic riding taught in Israel, and thousands of qualified
instructors trained to work both here and abroad. In 1988 when all this
started there were no facilities at all.
“We raised the bar,” she
Therapeutic riding, however, has one drawback: it is incredibly
expensive. The Defense Ministry helps in the case of
Recently the family bade farewell to Sarah, Anita’s
thoroughbred mare, at age 37. She had been flown here in a cargo flight in
Shkedi’s daughter, Tanya, is now married with two children, and
Danny is completing his army service.
In England Shkedi was known as “the
rebbetzin with a horse.” While she is no longer a rebbetzin, the horses will
always be a supremely important part of her life.