“We have almost forgotten how strange a thing it is that so huge and powerful and intelligent an animal as a horse should allow another, and far more-feeble animal, to ride upon its back.” ~ Peter Gray
Today I want to switch gears a bit and discuss a type of therapy that is beneficial to a wide variety of disabilities. I’m talking about Therapeutic Riding or Equine Assisted Therapy.
This is a type of therapy for the disabled that uses a horse and equine-oriented activities to assist with physical, emotional, cognitive, social and behavioral issues.
In High School, I volunteered with a Therapeutic Riding Center in Kansas and saw the benefits first hand. With the aid of; riding instructors, volunteers, educational specialists, behavioral specialists, and medical professionals, the young and old flourished in a unique environment.
Horses used for Therapeutic Riding are evaluated by equine professionals for disposition and ability before being accepted into a program. The horses must be deemed safe, predictable, and sound. In addition; the horses must exhibit intelligence, be well conditioned, level-headed, sensitive, patient, hard-working, balanced, and versatile. The therapy horse will experience many things in his career so he must be tolerant of loud, unpredictable noises and movements; especially those made by the rider.
Riders that come to the program improve their riding skills, gain strength, coordination and flexibility. Many riders experience greater self-esteem, improved function, and an overall happier state of mind through the program.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways that riding can improve things like balance, muscle control, spasticity, and range of motion.
When riding a horse; muscles respond by contracting and relaxing in an attempt to maintain balance. This response stimulates muscles that normally are not during conventional therapy. Coordination is a required development in order to communicate the proper signals to the horse to get the appropriate response. Horses provide instant feedback to the rider allowing the rider to know if they’ve given the correct signal.
Repetition of movements improves reflexes.
Spasticity is greatly improved with the stretching of muscles as a rider is encouraged to maintain proper posture. With heels stretched downward, calf muscles are stretched, abdominal and back muscles stretch as the rider sits upright, arm and hand muscles work as they manipulate reins. The rhythmic motion of the horse encourages muscles to relax and the warmth of the horse itself may also aid in this.
Equine assisted therapy is a wonderful way to bring both horse and rider an exciting new challenge. It is thought that therapeutic riding dates back as far as 1875, or possibly farther, as references to it are made throughout history as a way to improve neurologic disorders.
Please feel free to browse the library portion of my web page to find book references for further reading. I plan to add more in time so check back periodically.