Nearly everyone has seen movies or television shows that depicted some heroic person effortlessly springing onto the back of a horse and flying off to fight the bad guys. However, actually climbing onto the back of one of these gentle giants is much different than what popular media portrays. Just ask anyone who has a horse farm, those who regularly ride, or adults and children who take part in therapeutic horsemanship. Not many people have actually heard of the last activity, but this activity has significantly impacted the lives of those with special needs.
Therapeutic riding has been actively helping individuals with disabilities since the 1950’s, when it started in Europe. Now, found throughout the world, it is considered exceptionally beneficial for people of all abilities, ages, and circumstances.
Therapeutic horseback riding and developmental vaulting each help to augment emotional, cognitive and physical well-being through riding, horsemanship instruction and personal interaction with the horses.
According to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), there are various disciplines of therapeutic horsemanship, such as riding, driving, and vaulting. Participation in equine-assisted activities promotes mental, physical, emotional, and cognitive therapeutic development and well-being. The three-dimensional movement of a horse has proven extremely helpful in establishing balance. It is so like a human gait that, for those who struggle to walk or cannot walk, it imitates the rhythm needed for their own independent steps.
The act of horsemanship for disabled individuals can aid in bonding with fellow riders, reducing anxiety, building self-esteem, team building and the controlling of anger. Equestrian therapy necessitates the rider to address issues such as communication, trust, honesty, accountability, responsibility, patience, relationships, self-respect, respect for others, self-confidence, and social skills. Additionally, horseback riding helps those with disabilities increase their self-confidence, learning problem-solving skills, and ability to focus.
Moreover, riders learn to work through their fears, set goals for themselves, and achieve these goals.
Horseback riding activities assist people with disabilities in the stretching and strengthening of all muscle groups, improvement of posture and coordination, as well as the development of fine and gross motor skills. This change develops an increase in the rider’s awareness of their body in space and improvement in their range of motion. The physical benefits include the stretching of tight or spastic muscles, reduced spasticity, increased range of motion of the joints, a decrease of abnormal movement patterns, improved respiration and circulation, improved appetite and digestion, and sensory integration.
The cumulative benefits that riders with special needs gain are crucial to their overall health and well-being. Since those benefits include physical, psychological, social, and educational training, the rider will have an opportunity for personal growth and will more easily integrate into social situations with others. The riders may also gain increased interest in the outside world as well as a sense of normal living. Additionally, the increased interest in his or her own life may help in the therapy of psychological disorders.
Medical, educational, and social service practitioners are increasingly accepting the benefits of therapeutic riding for their clients, and, as a result, the demand for such therapeutic centers increases. This respect and acceptance, coupled with the continued dedication of volunteers, staff and supporters, helps to ensure that riders will continue to have the opportunity to benefit from their relationship with the horse.
The Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://cstrc.org/
Therapeutic horseback riding. (2015). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therapeutic_horseback_riding
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