Many children, youth and adults with disabilities can benefit from therapeutic horseback riding and/or hippotherapy – both different in their own ways. Our focus today is on therapeutic horseriding, which our son has done for almost 7 years now.
Therapeutic riding instructors work to partner the needs of each individual participant with specially trained horses chosen for their calm temperament. Programs are customized around the needs of each rider and include a variety of activities, exercises, and games on horseback. Riders work to strengthen muscles, improve balance and coordination, learn to follow instructions, increase the ability to focus, and improve communication skills. The goal is to provide an emotionally and physically enriching experience for the riders, as well as teach them how to ride a horse!
Developing emotional connections to the horses provides an additional therapeutic dimension to the program. Developing relationships with the volunteers and instructors can help as well. In addition to these intangible benefits, therapeutic riding can also provide:
- Improved Gross Motor skills-using the large muscles of the body to guide the horse.
- Improved Fine Motor skills-using smaller muscles to direct the reins, using hands to do any skill while on the horse, helping tack and dress the horse, etc.
- Increased Core Strength-using those tummy muscles to sit up straight and help maintain balance!
- Increase Communication skills-working with not only the horse-giving directions and other subtle cues, but communicating with the volunteers, instructors, and any other participants in the lesson.
- Increase Self-Confidence-sitting atop a large animal takes some guts! If you’ve never ridden, take a lesson and see for yourself. Not only getting up the nerve to ride a horse, but actually taking command to guide these beautiful animals…it’s very exciting for most participants.
If you might be interested in therapeutic riding for your child, look for one in your area. Local disability organizations might have a list, or just google “therapeutic horseriding” and see what comes up. I know it’s been a huge benefit to Caleb, and he continues to ride after seven years!