Buccoo’s reef tours and goat racing have become world-renowned, but horseback riding has quickly become one of the more popular attractions in the scenic village.
The Healing with Horses Foundation, founded in 2010 by Veronika Danzer LaFortune and her husband Lennan LaFortune, provides a safe space for injured or reject horses to rehabilitate and interact with humans. Starting with just one horse, Healing with Horses now boasts 12 equines – including former Jamaican racehorse King’s Council and a pony – on three acres of land donated by the Tobago House of Assembly.
Healing with Horses is open Monday to Saturday with two sessions per day – Being with Horses and a Beach Trail.
On a regular day, it is common to hear the clop-clop as horses make their way along the streets to the Buccoo beach with clients on board. La Fortune said the aquatherapy heals some of the aches and injuries of the horses and clients also enjoy the relaxing ride through the water.
A typical tour starts at the Healing with Horses main office with LaFortune giving clients a synopsis of the work of the foundation. She said her staff includes four special-needs employees as it is important for special-needs people to be incorporated into daily activities.
According to Healing with Horses annual report, equine nature therapy sessions are held six days a week and are focused on supporting individuals diagnosed with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, visual/hearing or speech Impairment, ADHD, emotional trauma, weak motor skills and Asperger’s syndrome. These sessions allow the children to improve their physical strength and overall well-being through therapeutic interactions.
LaFortune said sessions with children from various care homes are usually very productive,
“Some of them have been abused so to take control of such a powerful animal gives them that confidence that they may be lacking.”
Alongside her husband, employees and volunteers, clients are taught how to hold the reins, how to sit on a saddle, and then how to ride a horse.
On the interaction with the horses she said: “You have to be firm sometimes. Some of them are lazy, some of them are leaders, and some of them are followers. Horses are herd animals. They are pack animals – they will only go out if the pack is going. There is nothing for you to be worried about.”
LaFortune said it is important to read the body language of the horse.
“He (the horse) would never choose somebody he doesn’t lilke. I would never push a horse onto you. I rather give you back your money.”
On the basics of horseback riding she said, “You’ve gotta sit upright like a policeman. Relax your legs and toes...
“If you wanna go left, pull left. And if you wanna go right, you pull right. You’re welcome to pull, you’re not hurting the horse.”
Her husband told a client: “You’re born in Trinidad and Tobago? You could wine?”
LaFortune added, “He’s (the horse) your dance partner. If you don’t wine he’s gonna slow down and stop.”
Neola Zama and her husband Shem Soogrim, visiting from Trinidad, were among eight clients on June 10.
Zama said, “With covid and the lockdown, we didn’t go anywhere. We’ve been married for 12 years and in the habit of taking trips, but we’re unvaccinated. We wanted to do a staycation. We wanted to discover something lovely and new. We love animals, we love nature, we love the sea, so this ticked all the boxes.”
Zama said it was her first time riding a horse.
“I think it’s kind of a well-kept secret so I’m kinda glad that Newsday is here and I hope more people can come.”
Two English-born visitors, who now reside in Spain, said it was their second time at Healing with Horses.
“It was June three years ago. We love it here. This was an amazing experience. It’s so different and we feel very privileged.”
LaFortune said the Buccoo community was not originally receptive of the “gentle giants” but after the first two horses mated and produced a filly, everything changed.
“Princess Julie, she was like a puppy – like a new baby in the village – and everybody loved it.”
She said as time passed, villagers’ fears were eased and they welcomed their new neighbours.