In a Rome neighborhood once known for its horse races, four horses and two ponies now move at a leisurely pace, aiding neurological patients in regaining their mobility and confidence. Equipped with handles on their saddles, these animals at San Giovanni Battista Hospital assist individuals in taking their first tentative steps post-trauma, stroke, degenerative diseases, and long COVID.

"It's a wonderful sensation, being able to maintain balance and walk. It's challenging, but with the horse, I can manage," shared Matteo Santopadre, a former shooting champion who now uses a wheelchair after a lengthy coma following a car accident. The hospital, situated where Rome's hippodrome once stood, is Italy's sole facility utilizing hippotherapy—a method that facilitates movements typically more difficult in a gym setting to enhance muscle strength, balance, and coordination.

This therapy also cultivates bonds between the animals and patients, fostering trust and affection through a gradual, sensory approach that yields significant psychological benefits. Operating in tandem with conventional rehabilitation, the hospital's program has been active for several years, serving over 600 patients in 2023. Physiotherapist Giorgia De Santis highlights the horse's non-judgmental nature as particularly beneficial.

"With its tranquil, steady breathing and slow heart rate, the horse helps patients relax, lower their defenses, and let go. It makes their experience more welcoming," she explained. Patients Giuliana Geatti and Paola Conto, both living with Parkinson's disease, attest to the therapy's ability to instill self-assurance and a renewed sense of freedom.

"The interaction with the animal is remarkable. It senses what you're feeling, you know?" Geatti remarked, leaning forward to hug the horse's neck as she rode.