COLUMBIA FALLS – In a dust-filled arena, Lisa Hartenstein slowly walked alongside a horse, waiting for it to get comfortable with her presence. After a few minutes, she slowly climbed up and stood atop the animal.
While standing up on a horse is certainly something most people should not do at home, Hartenstein, 22, of Dresden, Germany does it with ease and grace. Horse vaulting, which is basically gymnastics on horseback, can trace its roots back nearly 2,000 years, but modern vaulting can be traced back to Germany where it was used after World War II to introduce children to equestrian sports. It has since spread throughout Europe and North America.
Pancho is one of two horses owned by Flathead resident Anna Stene, who is hoping to use the animals to offer equine assisted therapeutic and learning services. Equestrian therapy includes exercises that build a relationship between the horse and a human to treat and overcome a wide range of challenges and disorders. Stene has worked with horses for years and is currently getting certified by PATH International, also known as the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
“All sorts of issues can come out between a client and a horse,” Stene said.
But in order for Stene to offer therapy, she needs horses that are ready to deal with people, which was where Hartenstein came in. The German vaulter has been in Whitefish for the last few weeks completing an internship at the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau. Just six weeks ago, Hartenstein met Stene and the two women hit it off over their love of horses. When Stene mentioned her plan to offer therapy with the horses, Hartenstein offered to help train the animals, which they did over the course of five weeks.
“It’s part recreation for her, but it’s also helping me get the horses ready,” Stene said. “It takes a ton of concentration and trust on the horses’ part and it takes a very special horse to let someone do this.”
Once on top, Hartenstein stands high above the animal and leans over its neck, an especially compromising position for the horse. Hartenstein said she has always loved horses and started vaulting as a child. In recent years she has traveled to competitions all over Germany.
“Each horse has its own personality and you really have to get to know the animal,” she said.
After five sessions over just as many weeks, Stene and Hartenstein agreed that the animals have made significant progress. Although Stene isn’t yet ready to offer equine therapy services, she said if people want more information they could email her at email@example.com.
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