Equine-assisted therapy, an inclusive tourism initiative

In a therapeutic horseback riding session, a girl holding two cups of water rides a horse. This exercise helps to work on trunk position, leg opening and balance. A therapist, Katrin, guides the horse. Image by Equinoterapia Girona.

Blac, Reixa and Prinz are three out of the eleven horses at Equinoteràpia Girona. The facility was created with the aim of offering a place to enjoy activities with horses adapted to all needs and capacities. Katrin Kopperschmidt, who founded the centre in 2004 and is its director, focused first on classic equine-assisted therapy –based on hippotherapy, therapeutic horseback riding and equine-assisted psychotherapy–, “but our offer has grown over time and now also includes other areas like emotional education and family activities”.

Benefits of equine-assisted therapy

Horses are creatures of habit, they are sociable and intuitive. Working with them brings many physical and emotional benefits. For instance, it allows people with cerebral palsy to do a valuable physical exercise. Horseback riding facilitates relaxation of ligaments and increases muscle tone. In other conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), horses channel the development of bonds and communication. In all cases, “the horse is a key part in the therapeutic triangle between the person performing the activity, the therapist – who in some cases becomes the mediator – and the animal itself”.  Besides, horses are believed to empathize with human emotions, thus helping us to accept us the way we are.  While doing activities with horses you can work on personal and social aspects, communication, behaviour… And the fact of practicing them in a natural environment is an added bonus, both for the visitor and for the horses themselves, which live in herds and in freedom.

Ignasi, a young man with ASD, rests his head on the back of a blond horse. The boy, in connection with the horse, smiles calmly and relaxed. Image by Equinoterapia Girona.
Ignasi, a young man with ASD, rests his head on the back of a blond horse. The boy, in connection with the horse, smiles calmly and relaxed. Image by Equinoterapia Girona.

After its closure due to the sanitary alert of the Covid-19, Equinoteràpia Girona has resumed the activity. They opened up last May 20th, “with gloves, face mask and disinfectant at hand and ensuring all the protection measures are respected“, says Katrin, “feeling very grateful and facing the new reality that everybody is talking about”. The clients came to see us “with confidence, enthusiasm and feeling very grateful”. She was so happy on the opening day, she says, that she didn’t stop smiling all day. 

Katrin shares her passion for horses with her husband (owner of Panorama Trails), who offers horseback riding trips along the Costa Brava designed for both experienced riders and beginners. He is also a member of the Club Natura i Turisme Actiu (a Costa Brava Girona Tourism Board club).

Different but complementary services

Equinoteràpia Girona is located at Mas Alba, a Catalan 18th century cottage, refurbished to offer rural accommodation. The house has six rooms, two of which are adapted, and all spaces are accessible. The two facilities offer different but complementary tourism supply, allowing clients from all over the world to stay just ten metres away from the horses with which they can practice equine-assisted activities. The house is surrounded by forest and fields, has a herd of dairy goats and its own cheese dairy. It also offers the possibility of a guided tour that includes the experience of milking the goats, a visit to the facilities and a tasting of their cheese; a whole lacto-touristic experience. Mas Alba is an associated member of the Club Enogastronomía (a Costa Brava Girona Tourism Board club).

An aerial view of Mas Alba, next to the facilities of Equinoteràpia Girona and the village of Terradelles in the background. Image of Mas Alba.
An aerial view of Mas Alba, next to the facilities of Equinoteràpia Girona and the village of Terradelles in the background. Image of Mas Alba.

Within the framework of the de-escalation plan, Mas Alba only takes bookings for the whole house, ensuring all security and health measures, and expects to start renting rooms separately by September. You can keep up to date with all the news following them on social media.

Equinoteràpia Girona, Panorama Trails and Mas Alba are all located at Terradelles, a small village at the Vilademuls region, at 15 minutes driving distance from Banyoles, Girona, Figueres y l’Escala.

More care experiences that are open to tourism 

Mas Els Casals, located in the midst of the Fageda d’en Jordà natural reserve (la Garrotxa), is a social and entrepreneurial project that is also open to tourism. La Fageda, best known for their yoghurts, ice-creams and jams, employs people with mental disease or intellectual disabilities.  For some years now, it has offered a visiting tour with several initiatives. In the first place, we underscore the facilities tour, which gives an inside view of the facilities and includes a product tasting. The tour is accessible and adapted to people with reduced mobility. Secondly, La Fageda en ruta, includes the inside tour to the facilities, a stroll around the woods and a picnic. The walking track is flat and accessible to senior visitors. The services to visitors were suspended last March, but the team has kept on working and they are planning to resume the service around mid-late July. They have now launched the online campaign #VullveniraLaFageda, a contest through social media where you can wina set of products and a tour for two people that includes a tasting.

In a natural setting, in the outdoor gardens of La Fageda facilities, a boy speaks in front of a group of people who listen to him with interest. Image by La Fageda.
In a natural setting, in the outdoor gardens of La Fageda facilities, a boy speaks in front of a group of people who listen to him with interest. Image by La Fageda.

In Serinyà, very near Banyoles, we find the Fundación Mas Casadevall, a complex that offers a place of work and experience for people with ASD. Their occupational workshops (farming, tending a vegetable garden, gardening…) all share a common purpose: promoting personal autonomy and the feeling of accomplishing a useful job. Besides, the centre includes a small shop that sells the products made by the users. Furthermore, every Wednesday they sell products from their organic garden at the weekly market in Banyoles. The foundation also houses a restaurant serving seasonal food, alsoincludingvegetarian dishes, made from produce from the farm and vegetable garden. The restaurant is accessible to people with reduced mobility or wheelchairs. Even though the facilities are located in the countryside, they can be accessed from the car park via a ramp (due to the characteristics of the terrain, the person in a wheelchair may need the help of an accompanying person). Now all services to the public are closed until the situation is back to normal, but you are welcome to follow them on social media to be updated about their reopening so you can visit them once they resume their activity.