danielle horse 88 298.
(photo credit: Meredith Price)
Horseback riding for both leisure and sport is a rapidly growing industry in Israel and the branches, competitions and activities it involves are widespread.
"We have 500 horses registered, but in all of Israel there are somewhere between 10 and 15,000 horses," says Anat Kirshner, the secretary of the Israel Equestrian Federation (IEF). "We also have 120 registered riding schools across the country, but there are many more and they are springing up all the time."
Kirshner explains that riding falls into two basic categories of either leisure or sport, and the two disciplines have little in common.
The IEF, comprised of 1,500 members and founded in 1964, is the only official Israeli body in the equestrian field. They coordinate horseback riding sports in six different categories: show jumping and dressage (Olympic categories), western (divided into reining, cutting, western dressage and trail), endurance, tent pegging and sports riding for disabled riders in various categories. Judges for the competitions, which take place on a regular basis around the country, are invited from abroad.
Beyond the two major categories of sport and leisure is a third genre called therapeutic riding. Anita Shkedi, the founder of the Israel National Therapeutic Riding Association (INTRA), is credited with bringing therapeutic riding to Israel in 1985. She explains that Israeli riders have also competed in the last two World Championships for disabled riders, and in the Atlanta and Sydney Paralympics.
"The general idea is that therapeutic sports riding motivates the disabled to compete, and this is part of the therapy. As soon as something becomes an Olympic sport, then it is also part of the Paralympics," says Shkedi. "We hope that reining will be the next Olympic sport."
She caveats her explanation by saying that people often confuse therapeutic sports riding and therapeutic riding because of the close terminology. "Therapeutic sports riding includes many categories but refers to the competitions for disabled riders. Therapeutic riding is something else entirely that is used to improve the well-being of physically or mentally disabled people."
Aside from clinics and instructor courses, INTRA specializes in helping victims of terror attacks and soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. "We work closely with the hospitals and psychiatrists who recommend therapeutic riding to their patients, and we monitor our progress very carefully," says Shkedi, whose background in preventive medicine and education combined with her love for horses helped her with the foundations of her work.
The idea for bringing therapeutic riding to Israel came after a close friend of hers was wounded in Lebanon in 1983.
"My friend came to visit me in England and I got him on a horse," says Shkedi. "It was so helpful to him that he encouraged me to bring it to Israel, which I did in 1985."
Today, INTRA uses horses to treat people of all ages with various disabilities, from the physically impaired to children from damaged homes or youth with delayed development.
"We are able to improve the quality of people's lives through a shared connection with horses," says Shkedi.
Close to 30 therapeutic riding centers are scattered throughout Israel, and the IEF organizes competitive activities suitable for participants in therapeutic riding from all ages and skill levels.
But no matter what type of riding one may be doing, safety is the most important ingredient.
"People should be aware that there are dangers involved with horseback riding, and they need to be careful," says Kirshner. She recommends visiting the stables before making reservations to go for a leisure ride to make sure the animals are well-cared for, vaccinated, in good physical condition and that the stables have insurance.
Shkedi agrees that safety is critical.
"Many small, satellite ranches have sprung up in recent years, and two deaths have occurred because of careless riding, inexperienced guides and untrained horses," says Shkedi. "Horseback riding in Israel is a growing industry and safety should not be swept under the carpet and ignored."