Benefits of Therapeutic Riding

Therapeutic Riding is designed to assist those in need of support with Physical, Emotional and Cognitive therapies. For those with exceptionalities Therapeutic riding is recognized as one of the more progressive forms of therapy. Once these clients gain the ability to control a horse as well as one’s own body, they are inspired with a renewed sense of self-confidence, responsibility and teamwork. Best of all, working with horses is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, that creates a special relationship between both horse and rider that promotes personal challenges.

  • Riders learn improved coordination, self-assurance and balance, all while receiving therapeutic muscle stimulation, right from the very beginning in these programs.
  • As a result of our carefully planned individualized progressive lessons, the participants very quickly see improvements in strength, poise posture and flexibility.
  • From the start they learn a strong sense of responsibility, which we continue to develop progressively, as riders learn to take a bigger part in the care of the horses and the equipment that they use during their sessions.
  • Some of the participants can even get to the point of learning some more advanced equestrian skills, as well as cooperation and teamwork. These skills are learned as the rider becomes more independent on horseback.
  • When riders get to the more independent stage in their riding, horse shows, lessons and other equine events, helps to encourage confidence, much improved self-esteem and a huge sense of accomplishment, as they progress into new levels of expertise and as new goals are met.

Some of the exceptionalities that can directly benefit from Therapeutic Riding:
  • Down Syndrome
  • Autism
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • MS
  • Anxiety/Depression
  • Those suffering from Trauma/abuse/PTSD
  • Eating Disorders
  • Sensory issues
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Traumatic Brain/Body Injuries
  • Suicide/self esteem
  • Bullying
  • Dementia/Alzheimer’s
  • Any Neurodevelopmental disorders
  • Addiction

Physical Benefits

Horses are remarkable animals in many ways. They are especially impressive as their movement alone helps to stimulate body functions. As the horse moves, the rider is constantly thrown off-balance, which requires that the rider’s muscles to contract and relax in an attempt to rebalance. This exercise reaches deep muscle tissue that is not accessible in conventional physical therapy. The three-dimensional rhythmical movement of the horse is similar to the motion of walking, which brings a rhythmical pattern to the muscles of the legs and trunk. By placing the rider in different positions on the horse (therapeutic vaulting, yoga, lying down, etc…), we can work different muscle sets to strengthen specific areas. Stopping and starting the horse, as well as the changing speed the horse moves at and changing direction, will increase those benefits.
Along with improved balance, muscles are strengthened by the increased use involved in riding. Even though riding is exercise, it is also perceived as an enjoyment as well as a calming zen-like experience, which therefore allows the rider wo have increased tolerance and motivation to lengthen the period of exercise.
Because of the fact that it takes full body coordination to participate in Horse-back riding, participants tend to develop faster reflexes, as well as increasing and improving the rider’s ability for better motor planning. Riding a horse requires a great deal of coordination in order to get the desired response from the horse. This is especially important as the horse provides instant feedback to every action by the rider, as they get further along in their sessions, it becomes easier to know when you have given the correct cue. Repetition of patterned movements required in controlling a horse quickens the reflexes and aids in motor planning.
Because spasticity is reduced while on the horse, and range of motion is largely increased, the results that follow are for abnormal movements to be inhibited. The relaxation techniques that are learned while riding, will also help to inhibit abnormal movement.

Spasticity is reduced simply by the natural rhythmic motion of the horses’ gaits. The warmth of the horse If riding bareback, may also aid in relaxation, especially the lower back, groin muscles and legs. Sitting astride a horse helps in breaking up extensor spasms experienced by some in the lower limbs. Holding the horses’ reins, also helps to break flexor spasm patterns that may occur in the upper limbs. Fatigue also helps to decrease spasticity by producing relaxation, which helps to increased the range of motion of the joints. As spasticity is reduced, the range of motion increases. Range of motion can also drastically be improved by the act of mounting and dismounting, tacking up, grooming, and exercises during lessons. There are many developmental vaulting positions that are designed to aid in the break up or reduction of spasticity.

Although therapeutic horse-back riding is generally not considered as a cardiovascular exercise while most sessions will be mostly done at the walk, more advanced riders may be able to trot and canter, which increase both respiration we well as circulation.

Horse-back riding also helps to stimulate the tactile senses, both through touch and environmental stimuli. The vestibular system is also stimulated by the horses’ body movement, especially with many changes in speed and direction. The olfactory system responds to the many smells that you’ll find around the stable yard and farm environment. Vision is used in control of the horse and helps with improving balance. The many sounds that occur around the stable/farm, will also help to involve the auditory system. All of these senses work together and are integrated in the act of therapeutic horse-back riding. In addition, proprioceptors (which are the receptors that give information from our muscles to our tendons, as well as to ligaments and joints) which are all activated while on horse-back, which results in improved proprioception.

This includes our ability to understand relationships as well as having an awareness of form and space. Included in this area are directionality (knowing the difference between right and left); form perception (i.e. differentiating “m” and “h” for example); figure ground (picking out objects from a background); and visual sequential memory (such as remembering symbols that are placed in a particular pattern or sequence). Space perception also falls under this category, this allows us to differentiate between items that are close in shape but spatially different (i.e. “b” versus “h” for example); Reading and math concepts both involve visual and spatial perception. As a natural result, visual spatial perception improves as the rider improves there of control of the horse. Additional exercises are done on the horse to increase ability in this area.

Increased range of motion of joints

Horse-back riding in a therapeutic setting also allows for the improvement of stretching out tight or spastic muscles. Sitting on a horse requires stretching of the adductor muscles of the thighs, which is accomplished by the rider pre-stretching their bodies prior to mounting the horse. Often times it’s helpful to start riders off on narrow horses and gradually working up to wider and wider horses. Arm, shoulder, hand and core muscles are also stretched as part of the routine exercises required while riders are on their horse and by the act of holding and using the reins. Gravity also helps with stretching the muscles in front of the leg as the rider sits on the horse without stirrups. Riding with stirrups with heels level or down helps to stretch the heel cords and calf muscles is one of the exercises that can be performed to assist with this as well. Stomach and back muscles are stretched as the rider is encouraged to maintain an upright posture against the movement of the horse.

Improved gross and fine motor skills

Horse-back riding like all forms of exercise, allows our digestive system to work more efficiently, as it helps to stimulate appetite as well as the digestive tract.

Phychological Benefits
Being around horses no matter in what capacity, gives people a general sense of hope, normalcy, and well-being. Exercise in the fresh air of an Equestrian Centre, or out on the trails away from hospitals, Doctors offices, therapy rooms, or even at home, also helps to promote a sense of well-being.

Horses are fantastic at teaching self-confidence. Confidence at it’s finest is generally gained by mastering a skill normally performed by able-bodied people. Learning the ability to control an animal that is much larger and stronger than oneself is a HUGE confidence builder. Participating in events such as horse shows, group structured lessons, trail rides, wagon rides, etc. all add to the sense of achievement for those that participate in Therapeutic riding.

Healthy self-esteem and self-image

For those people that live with confined by an exceptionality, the world tends to shrink in size. Horse-back riding helps to increases the interest in what is happening around the rider, as the rider explores the world from the back of a horse. Even the prospect of exercising becomes interesting when done on horseback.
The excitement of riding and the experiences involved help to stimulate the rider, encouraging the rider to speak and communicate about it. Even those that are non-verbal tend to find their voice on the back of a horse.

Stress reduction

Riding is one of the most high-risk sports in the world since your team mate is usually over 1000lbs with a mind of their own. Which makes it even more remarkable that these gentle giants are used in therapy. This allows the rider to learn to master their fears and teaches the act of staying on the horse, as well as attempting new skills and positions on the horse.
This is developed by allowing students to learn to master a skill that can be considered difficult even by the able population, the rider experiences him/herself as being normal.
This is a big one! Since horses have a mind of their own, riders quickly learn the practice of patience as he or she attempts to perform skills on the horse when the horse is not cooperating. Repetition of proper basic riding principals to ensure they learn them thoroughly, also helps to develop patience.
Upon starting in a Therapeutic riding program, the rider quickly learns that an out-of-control rider means an out-of-control horse. Shouting, crying, and emotional outbursts upset the horse, which in turn frightens the rider. Riders learn to control these emotions as well as to appropriately express them.
Once riders get more confident with their skills on horseback, they begin to view him/herself as having a semblance of control over his/her world, especially as they advance and their control over a powerful animal continues to improve.

Social Benefits

Although riding can be a solitary activity in private settings, therapeutic riding is offered in the form of group lessons as well. Riders learn to share a common love of horses, as well as enjoying the common experience of riding with their fellow equestrians. This is of course a great foundation on which to build a friendship.
Horses require a great deal of love, care and attention. Most riders find themselves very quickly forming a bond with the animals and the animals with them. They develop an interest in them as part of their lessons taught in their sessions, is to learn to take care for them. They quickly learn the importance of putting the needs of the horse first.
The variety of experiences involved in riding are endless. From tacking up and grooming to trail riding, from going to horse shows to learning the parts of a horse, to properly cleaning and taking care of their equipment, the rider is constantly experiencing new things and growing. The horse also provides the rider with the ability to go places that may be otherwise inaccessible due to their exceptionality.
There is no doubt about it, horse-back riding is fun. Riders remember and look forward to the excitement and pleasure they experience every time they come for a lesson.

Educational Benefits

Before one can read, it is necessary to recognize the difference in shapes, sizes, and even colours. All these skills can be taught more easily on horseback, since most participants are already in their happy place, which will automatically make it that much for interesting. Doing different exercises to promote these skills will help develop a bigger interest in otherwise boring activities, as we can add them as part of the games and activities that are performed on horse-back. When you have their interest, there is less resistance to learning. Through the use of signs, stations and different games placed around the arena, letters can be taught, reading of individual words by word recognition can also be learned. Games involving signs for “exit”, “danger”, “go”, “stop” etc., help to teach important life skills involving reading.
This is a skill that can be learned by counting the horse’s footsteps, objects around the arena, or even the horse’s ears and legs. Understanding number concepts are also gained as the rider compares the number of legs on a horse to the number of his own legs. Addition and subtraction can also be taught through games involving throwing numbered foam dice and adding or subtracting the numbers. Because the concepts are taught through games, resistance to learning is decreased.

Learning to be responsible, reliable and have a great work ethic

This is a skill set that can be taught in all kinds of activities on horse-back. Using something as simple as holding and using a pencil correctly, requires a great deal of motor planning. Knowing which steps in a sequence of events comes first, is an important part of most activities. These skills as well as other similar skills are taught on horseback through the use of obstacle courses, pylons, pole and drill team exercises, or for the more advanced even jumping, and many other games and activities can all be set up to assist with the improvement of these skills.
Eye hand coordination is a big and necessary skill that is learned from grooming, mounting, drawing and writing. These are all skills that are easily taught around horses and will help improve eye-hand coordination using various activities and exercises.
As their skills develop, the rider learns to differentiate the significant stimuli from the less significant stimuli in the environment. An improvement in this area, generally occurs, as the rider learns to attend to his horse and those things that may influence the horse as opposed to attending the environment in general.