Therapeutic riding is an equine-assisted activity for the purpose of contributing positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being of people with special needs or those facing life challenges.
- Increased self-confidence, self-esteem and self-control
- Mastery of a difficult task
- Improved positive, social interactions and teamwork
- Increased ability to appropriately solicit help and act independently
- Increased desire to take risks
- Increased empathy and sense of empowerment
- Interaction with positive role models
- Experience of success in a supportive environment
- Improved coordination and normalized muscle tone
- Relaxation of tense muscles and working muscles that are weak or lose
- Improved posture, sitting and standing balance
- Improved gross and fine motor skills
- Increased functional range of motion and muscular strength
- Improved perceptual motor and sensory motor integration
- Improved cardiovascular function and stamina
- Increased vocabulary-application and recall Improved attention and concentration
- Improved sequencing and planning skills Improved judgment and critical thinking skills
- Improved flexibility in thinking
- Increased verbal integration and participation
- Increased visual and auditory discrimination
Therapeutic riding provides benefits in the areas of health, education, sport and recreation & leisure. Experiencing the motion of a horse can be very therapeutic because horseback riding rhythmically moves the rider's body in a three-dimensional manner similar to a human gait. Riders with physical disabilities often show improvement in flexibility, balance, coordination and muscle strength. In addition to the therapeutic benefits, horseback riding also provides recreational opportunities for individuals with disabilities to enjoy the outdoors.
How It Works:
As the horse moves, the rider is constantly thrown off-balance, requiring that the rider’s muscles contract and relax in an attempt to re-balance the body. This exercise reaches deep muscles not accessible in conventional physical therapy. The three-dimensional rhythmical movement of the horse is similar to the motion of walking, teaching rhythmical patterns to the muscles of the legs and trunk. Stopping and starting the horse, changing speed, and changing direction add to the workout. Even though riding is exercise, it is perceived as enjoyment, and therefore the rider has increased tolerance and motivation to lengthen the period and frequency of exercise.
Repetition of patterned movements required in controlling a horse quickens the reflexes and aids in motor planning. Riding a horse requires stretching multiple muscle groups. Spasticity is reduced by the rhythmic motion of the horse. Sitting astride a horse helps to reduce extensor spasms of the lower limbs. Riding stimulates the tactile senses through touch and environmental stimuli. The vestibular system is also stimulated by the movement of the horse, and by changes in direction and speed.
In addition to the physical benefits , therapeutic riding provides cognitive, emotional and social benefits. Riders practice problem solving skills through learning activities and playing games on horseback. Interactions with the instructors, volunteers, horses, and fellow riders boost confidence and self esteem in a social environment.
Exercise in the fresh air, away from hospitals, doctors’ offices, therapy rooms, or home helps to promote a sense of well-being. People have been moved to speak their first words on horseback, or have been inspired to use their hands for the first time to guide the horse. The ability to control an animal much larger and stronger than oneself is a great confidence builder.
Excerpted from Flying Changes for Therapeutic Riding, PATH Intl., and Strides Therapeutic Riding.