The job of a therapy horse is extremely difficult. They are asked to withstand what is counter-intuitive to their flight nature, and to learn when - and when not - to respond to stimuli. It is a challenging job for a horse to perform for an extended period of time. Cocoa, a Morgan
cross, performed her job for 11 years at Xenophon Therapeutic Riding Center
in Orinda, California, and never showed signs of tiring.
Prior to coming to Xenophon, Cocoa was ridden both Western and English and was used as a parade and trail horse. As a therapy horse, she was asked to stand quietly at a mounting ramp while students were mounted; perform at the walk, trot and canter at various rates of speed; stand patiently while students threw balls, bean bags and other toys; walk quietly while students performed various vaulting-type moves including riding sideways and backwards, kneeling, standing up, and performing backwards somersaults off her sides; jump small crossed poles; and most importantly work through lessons where she was often crowded by numerous side-walkers who were assisting the rider to stay on her back.
Cocoa was chosen by Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship
as the 2008 Horse of the Year because of her incredible temperament, her years of service as a therapy horse and the amazing way in which she did her job. While all therapy horses must have good temperaments, Cocoa demonstrated an uncanny ability to sense and respond to the needs of her riders. This is what truly set her apart. For able-bodied riders Cocoa was very forward and could be extremely challenging. However, when a disabled rider was on board Cocoa immediately knew to slow her pace.
My strongest memories of Cocoa are of how, when we used to turn her out before Saturday classes, she'd race around the ring, bucking like a youngster, then stand so still at the ramp while we did an over-the-crest mount with a very challenged student with Cerebral Palsy," remembers an instructor at Xenophon Therapeutic Riding Center
In 2008, Cocoa colicked and underwent abdominal surgery. Despite an arduous recovery it was evident from her demeanor that she wanted to return to work and she came back to carry on with her duties as she had always done. When arthritis prevented her from carrying her precious cargo, she demonstrated her same intuitive nature while being used for ground lessons by special needs children. She demonstrated an energy and openness about her that drew the children to form a relationship with her and challenge themselves in ways that were miraculous.
Through her years at the center, Cocoa impacted the lives of countless disabled children and hundreds of volunteers. Many horses grow weary of the job over the years - but not Cocoa. She passed away in 2012, but was dearly loved and will be sorely missed.