Hooves of hope: Dubai seniors tackle Alzheimer's with horses

The innovative equine-assisted therapy included a range of activities, from gentle touching and brushing to leisurely strolls


Mazhar Farooqui

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Photos: Angie Raab
Photos: Angie Raab

Published: Wed 24 Jan 2024, 5:16 PM

Last updated: Wed 24 Jan 2024, 7:13 PM

Seniors confronting Alzheimer's in Dubai recently discovered a unique path to well-being as they engaged with horses in a transformative morning aimed at rejuvenating their physical and mental health.

The innovative initiative, led by Monica Kubik and Maria Ollero, co-founders of Heal with Horses at equine-assisted therapy at Desert Palm Resort included a range of activities, from gentle touching and brushing to leisurely strolls alongside the horses, fostering moments of joy and tranquility.

Numerous studies highlight the myriad benefits of equine-assisted therapy for senior adults, effectively addressing issues such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, and cognitive impairments like Alzheimer's and Dementia.

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Desirée Vlekken, Founder of 4get-me-not, a social platform collaborating with Heal with Horses, said the animals brought big smiles to faces and got everyone moving according to their abilities. "We look forward to coming back soon."

Reflecting on the enriching experience, Monica, now initiating a four-week programme for women with cancer, emphasised the broader role of horses beyond sports instruments.

True calling

The German expat came to the UAE in 2006 and worked in the trade and exhibitions industry for a few years. In 2016, she found her true calling and founded an equine-guided coaching programme called FeelQuest, described as a quest with horses where participants reconnect with their feelings. Additionally, she employs roaming horses to instil corporate leadership skills among the country's top managers.

“The field of empowering interactions with horses is rapidly growing in the UAE, with establishments like the Equestrian Association for People of Determination at Desert Palm Resort playing a fundamental role in assisting children with determination for decades," she said. "In recent years, a growing number of professionals in related domains have embraced the inclusion of horses in their activities. This spans from fostering soft skills in leadership training, empowerment to enhance assertiveness, addressing anxiety issues, or providing emotional support to individuals grappling with cancer, among other areas.”

Monica said she’s happy to contribute to a field where retired and unrideable horses find a second chance at life, simultaneously assisting humans in discovering inner strength through respectful interactions.

The upcoming opportunity to experience well-being sessions with horses is at the FeelQuest Retreat in the desert of Mleiha, Sharjah, on February 3 and 4, with another session in March. Monica said the retreat would combine camping under the stars, horse interactions in the vast plains of the Mleiha Archaeological Area, and a deepened understanding of the UAE's rich history.


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