People have always had a close relationship with horses, and indeed, horses have helped build civilization. Even today when we no longer rely on horses as a means of getting around, horses hold an important place in the hearts of many. Any truly skilled horseman or woman will tell you that the bond developed between horse and rider is unique, and riding is a wonderful way to relieve stress. Today we also know that riding can provide valuable therapy for people with disabilities. In this article, we explore the benefits of therapeutic horseback riding. Read on to learn more.
What You'll Learn Today
- 1 What Is Therapeutic Riding?
- 2 What Are The Benefits Of Equine Therapy?
- 3 Why is horseback riding so therapeutic?
- 4 Being Around Horses Engages The Senses
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Therapeutic Riding?
There are several different types of equine therapy and treatment in use today. Two of the most popular are hippotherapy and therapeutic horseback riding. These are two very different approaches to using horses for therapeutic purposes.
Hippotherapy is conducted by a licensed therapist in conjunction with a skilled horse handler and a specially trained therapy horse. The horse is used as a treatment tool, and the therapy does not necessarily involve learning to ride. Instead, it may involve interaction or any number of other activities.
In therapeutic riding, people with disabilities learn to ride. Adaptive equipment may be used to enable the person to participate fully.
What Are The Benefits Of Equine Therapy?
Riding is good therapy for most people. That’s why parents often decide to buy a horse for their children. Spending time with horses is soothing to the heart, mind and soul, and taking a break from the world to simply go for a ride is refreshing, invigorating and fun.
All types of equine therapy bring a number of benefits to people with physical, emotional and/or mental disabilities. Among them are:
1. Balance And Motor Coordination Improvements
Riding helps improve balance and coordination for any rider and can be very helpful to participants with physical disabilities. Mounting up and dismounting also involves quite a bit of coordinated movement.
Learning to sit firmly in the saddle (developing a firm seat) involves balance, core muscle strengthening and the development of good posture. Learning to guide the horse while maintaining a good seat takes a great deal of hand-eye and muscle coordination.
2. Gross Motor Skill Improvements
Riding involves the use of large muscle groups. Riding improves gross motor skills as the rider learns to move subtly to the rhythm of the horse.
Mounting up and dismounting are also physically challenging and can improve gross motor skills. Exercises the rider can perform while in the saddle, such as standing in the stirrups, help strengthen large muscle groups.
3. Core Muscle Improvements
Learning to balance, move with the horse and maintain good posture helps develop core muscles. As a rider moves subtly with the horse’s swaying, forward motion, muscles throughout the rider’s upper body and legs constantly make minute adjustments. This core workout stretches and strengthens the rider’s stomach and back muscles.
4. Fine Motor Skill Improvements
Riding, driving, working with, grooming and handling horses can be very helpful to participants’ manual dexterity and fine motor skills. There are many different sorts of hand movements involved in dealing with and caring for horses. Examples include reining, brushing, combing, leading and more.
5. Social Skill Improvements
Participants in hippotherapy and therapeutic riding programs have great opportunities to improve social skills. Very often, people with disabilities do not have the opportunity to interact with others or simply have difficulty learning social skills.
The unique bond that develops between horse and rider can act as a bridge to enable participants to learn to connect with others.
Additionally, participants in equine therapy programs must also interact with instructors, volunteers and other program participants. Interacting around horses provides a natural shared interest. Furthermore, being around horses often lifts the spirits of participants who may be struggling with anger or depression.
Focusing on the challenges of participating in equine therapy can help participants channel and/or resolve negative emotions, and this can open a path to developing positive interactions with others in the program.
Why is horseback riding so therapeutic?
On a physical level, the rhythmic motion of the horse can be very calming and soothing. It is similar to the rhythm of a person’s movement, so it is familiar. It can be especially therapeutic to people with physical disabilities because it can help build muscle strength and encourage good balance and flexibility.
Emotionally, the bond a good and compassionate rider has with a horse is like no other. That bond can build confidence and help people experiencing emotional distress, working through addiction, recovering from abuse, etc., to move forward and recover.
Being Around Horses Engages The Senses
Therapeutic riding and other forms of equine therapy provide a wealth of sensory stimulation. This can be especially beneficial for people with autism. Riding and being around horses provides stimulation to four out of five senses: sight, sound, touch and smell.
Dedicated horsemen and women can often wax poetic about the warm, earthy scent of a horse; the feeling of a warm mane on a cold day; the sweet clover scent of a horse’s breath; the welcoming sound of a whinny and much more.
Spending time with horses is universally therapeutic for people with -or without – disabilities.
Benefits Of Therapeutic Horseback Riding
Frequently Asked Questions
Horses are very empathetic. They are social animals and want to bond and belong. When a horse is your friend, you can experience absolutely non-judgmental and unconditional love.
When you are riding, you can disconnect from the stressors of life. Trail riding gives you a chance to spend time outdoors in the fresh air. The exercise and the interaction with your horse trigger the release of serotonin (the feel-good hormone). All in all, horseback riding delivers a wealth of activities and experiences that have been proven to be beneficial to mental health.
Horseback riding elevates your mood and provides an interesting, engaging, creative pastime. It has been shown to be helpful to people dealing with many mental conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression, especially when combined with counseling.
As long as the anxiety isn’t triggered by being around large animals, horseback riding could be helpful with anxiety. Naturally, if a person’s anxiety was initiated by a negative experience with an animal, horseback riding might not be a good choice in therapeutic activities.