M’Lani Basson (33) grew up with horses on her parents’ smallholding and began riding when she was just three years old. A qualified trauma counsellor, she stumbled upon equine-assisted therapy while working overseas in Edinburgh. In 2008 after much research and a lot of hard work, M’Lani’s Amado dream became a reality.
Today, 40 vulnerable and disabled children are carefully selected from a special needs school in the area (Amado’s most important partner) to take part in a 12-month therapy programme. “We take on the worst-of-the-worst cases – I’d say 75% of my children have been thrown away by one or both biological parents,” says M’lani. Instead of traditional methods of therapy and physical exercise, Amado allows the children to freely interact with the horses. “When you cannot help yourself in and out of the bath, but you can control a 400kg horse, you gain confidence. In the process, the children also learn to treat animals with respect. I see their little faces light up when they see the horses, and I know that at least for now, they feel like kings and princesses, on top of the world, their hurt a galaxy away.”
While helping to heal the children’s bodies, Amado also encourages personal development and creativity, giving them a greater sense of independence so that they no longer need full-time care. Amado gives these brave children a sense of self-worth by allowing them to be free from their shackles even if it is not something they always get in their communities.
To date Amado has a 200-child waiting list, but in this safe and nurturing environment, it’s the horses that are the real heroes! They come from a variety of backgrounds, each one with a story of their own. One horse was saved from an area of draught and near death; another was old and left abandoned; another was born and raised on the farm. M’Lani has personally trained all of them and according to her, each horse offers something completely unique to the thousands of children they have helped in their time. “Grace is soft-natured; she bows her head so that it is easier to tickle her ears. Rain is fearless and strong-willed and takes our children where they never imagined possible, and Fire is delicate and understanding – a fantastic listener – and the children feel safe on his warm back.”
Amado is a special place where miracles happen every day. Located in the heart of Paarl, the farm offers animal-assisted therapy to special needs children who can’t afford it.
How You Can Help
It costs R275 000 a year to run the programme. The horses alone cost R80 000. It costs R5 000 to teach a child for a year. R500 to feed a horse for a week. R50 a day for fuel to fetch the children from school and R15 a day for soap and toilet paper for the young riders. Amado relies entirely on donations and every little bit helps.