A Doctor with a Soft Mane

Father Sergei’s horses are the only opportunity for severely disabled children to stand on their feet.

The Healing Essentuki hippotherapy center works to capacity and patients have to wait for treatment for a year! Together we can change the situation: on the “Let’s Help” online platform on the Mirom Help website, funds are being raised for the most necessary things for the center.


The summer semidarkness in the stable is lively, tangible and cool. It is imbued with the aroma of fresh hay, wet sawdust, bran, and the very special smell of horses. Snorting, they stick their curious muzzles through the bars of the stalls, trying to see everyone who passes by. The stable door is wide open, the light pours through it. Three silhouettes move through the sunbeams—an instructor, a horse and a young rider who lies trustfully on the horse’s tethers, hugging it with his arms. Training begins with an exchange of warmth and trust.

The distinctive characteristic of hippotherapy is its simultaneous effect on the musculoskeletal system and the psycho–emotional sphere of children. Children with cerebral palsy, autism, severe neurological and myotrophic disorders participate in therapeutic horse riding free of charge at the Healing Essentuki hippotherapy center. Every year 150 children climb into the saddle to learn how to walk, talk and rejoice. Plato, Ogonyok (“Little Flame”), Healer, and other “doctors” with soft manes “treat” young patients. Rehabilitation specialists call this hippoventia—a specially organized therapeutic interaction between a person and a horse.

​Priest Sergei Trostinsky. Photo: Ivan Gubsky / Etokavkaz.ru ​Priest Sergei Trostinsky. Photo: Ivan Gubsky / Etokavkaz.ru     

At the hippotherapy center people also treat each other in a special way. Everyday mercy—simple and proper—permeates the space of the “healing city”. The head of the center, Fr. Sergei Trostinsky, sets the pace. The priest supports not only children but also their parents—he goes to the seaside with them, gathers them at a common table for holidays, shares the joy of the first victories, and, most importantly, he sincerely prays for everyone at the altar as for his own sons or daughters.


“When a mother sees that her child, sitting horseback, slowly begins to control his hands, she cries with happiness. She runs to the priest and cries to him: ‘Father, go and see! He’s already making progress!’ I say, ‘Of course, dear, he is making progress! After all, we work, we pray.’ And she understands that this work will result in her child becoming like everyone else. Is there any greater joy for the mother of a ‘special’ child than to see him become ‘ordinary’?”

Fr. Sergei is convinced that the Church should support such families. After all, where there is the Lord, there is a different understanding of tragedy—it ceases to be synonymous with hopelessness.

The center cannot help all the children who need treatment. However, almost 100 children participate in horse riding there. The same number of children are on the waiting list.

“When I come to celebrate the service, I kiss the icon of the Mother of God, ‘The Multiplier of Wheat’, and implore: ‘Our dear Mother of God, help us, please feed us and help us have twenty more children at the center!’” Fr. Sergei as a professional hippotherapist understands that the sooner children start training, the more chances they have to escape from the clutches of disability or at least loosen them.

Why does a horse heal?

Fr. Sergei has loved horses since childhood. A young city boy asked his mother to take him to the country to horseback riders, who would give him rides. When he grew up, he began to take part in equestrian sports seriously. But Fr. Sergei did not start thinking about hippotherapy until almost two decades later—when a horse healed him!

“Then I had an absolutely different center—for released prisoners. We set up a small farm where ex-prisoners could work after their release. For household needs we bought a stallion and called him Epicenter. I started riding—and I quickly lost weight. I went from 120 to eighty-five kilograms! My shortness of breath and high blood pressure disappeared. I became interested in how it works and found out that there was a National Federation of Hippotherapy and Adaptive Equestrian Sports, which dealt with children with severe disabilities! I phoned the President of the Federation, and he invited me to Moscow to train hippotherapists and instructors. Naturally I could not refuse,” Fr. Sergei shrugs his shoulders.

Studying was not easy. It was important to cope with a large medical course, because a hippotherapist works not so much with the horse as with the with special needs child sitting on its back. It is vital to understand which movements will be useful to him, and what can harm him.

After returning from Moscow, Fr. Sergei “retrained” Epicenter as a “doctor” and began to work with children from a neighboring home for orphans with disabilities. At first it was just walking from the stable to the gate, but nevertheless it gave amazing results. From that time on, disabled children from ordinary families were brought to him. In three months, a group of fifty children gathered, and there was not enough space. They managed to buy a stable from some Cossacks and start building the Healing Essentukion there.

Over the past six years, the center has evolved into a unique rehabilitation center where thirty four-legged doctors treat hundreds of children simultaneously! Many of these children were brought here in their parents’ arms, and now they go to riding lessons on their own. Impressive results have been achieved not only by patients with minor motor disorders, but also by those with severe impairments, such as Yaroslava. The girl was born with a rare genetic disease—with such a diagnosis children cannot speak, cannot walk and suffer from immobility of the joints. The girl was brought to the Healing Essentuki Hippotherapy Center in 2017 in a wheelchair—she could not move and had a severe developmental delay. Fr. Sergei believed in the girl and took her to rehabilitation. Years of continuous, hard training—and Yasya [a diminutive form of the name Yaroslava.—Trans.] began to go to a regular school. Now she rides a horse and walks a lot. Her recent record is five miles! While riding a horse a person’s biomechanics is restored; movements of a rider’s lower back are the same as when walking.

With multiple repetitions the brain memorizes these movements and can produce them.

Another medical miracle happened to five children with autism spectrum disorder. And this diagnosis was removed after six years of training at Healing Yessentuki. Before their lessons, children see specialists. After the course they undergo another examination. 100 percent of the children exhibit pronounced positive dynamics.

“Our center is unique because the instructors have three educations in the areas necessary for hippotherapy. And we raised the horses without using a whip, in total love—that is why they unconditionally trust the instructor and forgive riders with special needs when they pinch, scream and display other manifestations of aggression. After lessons a child thanks his ‘doctor’ with a juicy carrot. And it is a victory when a child with cerebral palsy can open his hand squeezed by spasticity and hold out a treat to the horse,” Fr. Sergei is convinced.

Another dream of this priest and hippotherapist is to spread this practice in Orthodox dioceses. He is certain that there will be many priests who will be willing to try: some have a horse in the monastery, others keep a small farm attached to their parishes.

“I was included in the board of the National Federation of Hippotherapy and Adaptive Equestrian Sports of Russia. They said that our center’s experience of is needed. So let’s develop it! Those who wish can write to me: we will meet in Moscow, hold a master class and tell you where to start from,” Fr. Sergei is looking for like–minded people all over the country.

A salary as God’s Revelation

The other day, Healing Essentuki won the All-Russian competition of non-profit organizations in the sphere of assistance to children with disabilities. His practice has been recognized as the best in the field of adaptive physical culture and sports. But this award cannot be converted into funds for the purchase of feed or staff salaries. By the way, salaries have always been paid in time over six years of the life of the center, despite the fact that the center does not engage in commercial activities and it does not have a permanent income.

“We just have to live a spiritual life so that our hearts would always be open to helping others. And then the Lord will always be with us and will never abandon us. The history of our center is the best confirmation of this. I am often asked the question: Where did we get the money for salaries, feed, and countless other expenses? I can’t answer that question. I’m serious: I can’t answer! We do not earn money; all our services are free. That’s how we’ve been sustained for six years—with God’s help. Now the diocese has taken part of the salary costs on its shoulders, and we will make up for the rest from donations. I am told: ‘It’s impossible!’ I answer: ‘Here’s a miracle, a testimony of faith. It is here: around me, around the instructors, the children who are being healed here—this space of God’s grace accommodates all of us,” Fr. Sergei’s blue eyes turn sky blue as he talks about the main thing—the role of God in all this.

He is often asked where he derives strength to serve at the church, work in the stable and provide for the family. He answers simply: where God so wills, the order of nature is overthrown.

“The Lord understands that the human body has limited strength, so He gives us strength. My wife is very supportive—we have four children! The oldest serves in the special forces, and now he is in the Special Military Operation zone. I went there, gave Communion to soldiers and gave them spiritual instructions. My middle son is studying at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. Our daughter, a schoolgirl, has finished the first grade, and little Romashka [a diminutive form of the name Roman.—Trans.] goes to kindergarten. Of course, life can be hard, but what should we do and how can work out our salvation? I think it’s like this: Faith without works is dead (Jm. 2:26),” Fr. Sergei has been preaching this Biblical truth with his life.

How to help?


The center uses only twenty percent of its capacity in its work, its founder believes. To expand it, with the support of the authorities of the Stavropol Territory, he is building a year-round warm horse stable. This will be followed by a specialized swimming pool and rooms for other types of rehabilitation. While the construction is underway, all resources are directed to it, and funds from the State can be spent strictly for their intended purpose.

On the “Let’s Help” (Mirom.Help) Orthodox crowdfunding platform 308,770 rubles are being raised to support the daily work of the center. Equipment for therapeutic riding is of prime importance. It is very expensive and wears out quickly. But without special saddles, helmets, saddlecloths and pads it is impossible to hold riding lessons even with the children who are currently undergoing rehabilitation, not to mention those on the waiting list.

You can make a donation on the “Let’s Help” platform (Mirom.Help). It was created by the Synodal Department for Charity of the Russian Orthodox Church to help people in need and support Church social initiatives.


Nadezhda Khokhlova
Translation by Dmitry Lapa



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