Hannah SwansonSenior ProjectMs. Tillery13 November 2011 The Benefits of Horseback Riding Winston Churchill once profoundly claimed, “There is something about the outside of a horsethat is good for the inside of a man,” and such a statement could never be considered more truethan when speaking of equine assisted therapy. Horseback riding is remedial in itself, but whenused to help heal those persons who are disabled, it can work miracles; moreover, therapeuticriding aids positive reinforcement to the rider, allowing them to know they are excelling bothmentally and physically. In the United States alone, there are over five hundred equine therapycenters supplied with thousands of volunteers and therapists who have made it their mission tobetter the lives of those less fortunate. Unlike any other form of therapy, horseback riding givesspecial needs children and adults an integrated opportunity to progressively benefit physically,socially, and educationally. Despite the fact that horseback riding is generally dismissed as being a successful form ofphysical therapy, many studies and much research have proven that the techniques used inhippotherapy and therapeutic riding help significantly repair the deformities originating frommany unpreventable diseases, such as cerebral palsy and autism. Although the goals ofhippotherapy and therapeutic riding resemble each other, the two types of therapy differ greatlyin the way the rider is exercised and strive for highly contrasting outcomes. When hippotherapyis performed, the hippotherapist utilizes the movement of the horse as an integrated methodof physical, occupational, and speech-language therapy to improve the disabled rider’s totalability to function normally (American Hippotherapy Association). The walking movementof the horse is unchanging, meaning that the rider’s sensory input of movement is ignited
through the rhythmic and repetitive footsteps comparative to those of a walking human. Themount’s capabilities to stay balanced and focused, regardless of the fact that they are ridingwith a therapy-type saddle and stirrups, are tested by the equine being led through a series ofserpentine movements and stop-start motions, forcing them to constantly constrict and relaxmuscles that would otherwise be dormant. However, a hippotherapist does not only attempt toelicit muscle response and movement; they are also working to improve the child’s motor skills,planning, and coordination (Nugent). To draw forth the brain activity needed to improve suchskills, the instructor might challenge the child’s ability to multitask by having them throw itemstowards a designated object while remaining on the horse. Another commonly used tactic topromote brain activity and maximize physical coordination is to have the child complete a letterboard, also while being on a walking horse. The primary focus of hippotherapy is to developbalance, body awareness, and muscle tone in order to enhance the physical abilities of the rider(United Cerebral Palsy). All of the physical benefits received through hippotherapy drasticallyhelp improve the lives of children who suffer from many diseases, cerebral palsy and autismespecially, benefits that cannot be obtained through any other form of physical therapy. Unlike hippotherapy, therapeutic riding concentrates on ameliorating the equine handlingabilities of special needs children and adults so they can ride and control a horse asindependently as possible. Though therapeutic riding does not hone in on solely reapingphysical productivity from the rider like hippotherapy, one of the most profound physical benefitsis improved balance, resulting from the constant movement of the horse throwing the rider offbalance, forcing them to use muscles that are not normally accessible (McFarlane). Similar tohippotherapy, the therapist often changes the position of the patient on the horse, the speed atwhich the horse is walking, and the direction of the horse to amplify the rider’s profit. Specialneeds children and adults who participate in therapeutic riding often go unaware of the fact thatthey are dramatically increasing their muscle strength, improving their coordination and reflexes,
and increasing their motor skills, all of which are a result of their heightened sense of balance.Especially beneficial to special needs children is the repercussion of decreased spasticity,which is immensely reduced by the relaxation created by the rhythmic movement of the horse(Fischbach). Researchers believe that the radiating body heat of the horse beneath the saddlecauses for relaxation of the muscles in the legs and thighs, reducing the likely hood of theequestrian having a spastic break out while on the horse. Even further, fatigue created by ridingand the act of the rider properly holding the reins also bolsters in reducing spasticity. Whencombined, hippotherapy and therapeutic riding can be proven to provide for more physicalbenefit than any other form of physical therapy for persons suffering from disabilities throughmagnified relaxation, increased use of muscles, and the improvement of balance. In general, equine assisted therapy allocates unlimited social benefits and possibilitiesfor handicapped or special needs persons; the opportunities to procure a healthy socialenvironment involving horses are limitless. Without a doubt, the biggest social milestoneestablished in therapeutic riding is the relationship between the rider and the equine becauseoften times, this is a special needs child’s first attempt at truly trying to constitute a friendshipincorporating trust and respect (Fischbach). Special needs children, at no fault of their own,put their personal needs before those of others, but riding a horse requires much care andattention be paid to the animal, teaching them to put the horse’s needs before their own. Inaddition, the development of friendships is furthered resulting from the regularly occurring grouptherapeutic riding lessons, and the children in these groups realize that there is a commonground amongst all of the members: the love for horses. In consequence to the friendshipsformed through therapeutic riding, there is a high level of self confidence established, whichis created through the participant’s willingness to conquer fears and attain goals they set forthemselves (The Benefits of Equine). Horses have a stature that, at times, can appear to bevery large and intimidating; thus, the fear the horse often instills in children permits them to
overcome many other fears they posses. Once a rider has quelled their fears of these incrediblebeasts, their self-esteem escalates, which, in return, propels their social skills into a morenormal state. Special needs and handicapped persons are frequently assembled togetherbecause of the negative connotation society has previously deemed upon them; however, theunconditional love a horse gives its rider, no matter their internal faults, unleashes a realm ofsocial opportunities for them to take part in. Unquestionably, education has become one of the major societal focuses over the lastcentury, and it is quite evident that, in most instances, special needs and handicapped personsare at an intensified disadvantage due to their learning disabilities. However, equine assistedtherapy diverts the typical hassle that learning how to read and do basic math is for disabledchildren by incorporating letters, numbers, shapes, and colors into games and activities playedduring a riding lesson (Fischbach). Including learning exercises throughout a riding lessonallows for the child to unknowingly enjoy the process of obtaining further knowledge, andthis impressive incorporation of the two activities teaches the child to associate learning withentertainment, which inevitably makes them matriculate in schooling process willingly. Importantlife skills are acquired with reading and math games, such as being able to comprehendbasic words that are frequently placed on signs and being able to perform basic additionand subtraction. Likewise to the remedial math and remedial reading skills gained throughtherapeutic riding, sequencing, patterning, and improved hand-eye coordination also emerge aseducational benefits (Jacobs). Sequencing and patterning are classified as basic motor skills,and unfortunately, most special needs children lack the ability to perform both of these tasks.To stimulate the part of the brain that performs these motor skills, therapeutic riding instructorsdevelop a series of obstacles courses and other various exercises to place the rider in a positionwhere they must construct a way out of the maze. The repetitive attempts of weaving in andout of the obstacle courses teaches the children how to form a pattern in their head and to how
to navigate themselves and their horse around the cones and poles. Furthermore, it has beentaken into account among parents and teachers of these riders that a significant change inattitude and determination occurs once the child begins therapeutic riding (Miller and Alston).Without question, therapeutic riding, for young children in particular, stimulates the brain toattain basic motor skills, and the knowledge absorbed from the various activities taking placeduring a lesson stick in the child’s memory permanently and make a tremendous impact overtheir lifetime. Since the 1950s, equine assisted therapy has been imprinting the lives of thousands ofdisabled children and adults, allowing them to grow and develop into remarkable membersof society. Unfortunately, often times neglected of praise, is the most important aspect oftherapeutic riding: the horses. A unique and dedicated type of equine is required to be ableto tolerate the hard, frequently irritating work that is therapeutic riding, and it is certain that atherapy horse has a heart of gold because no matter how the rider may torment the equine,at the end of the lesson, the horse is always there to show its rider affection. These masculinebeasts are what permit the handicapped people who ride therapeutically to excel in their livesand know that they have truly accomplished a milestone, allowing them to develop mentally,emotionally, and physically. The journey therapeutic riding entails can be long and strenuous,but the overall outcome cannot be surmounted, being that fear is quelled, self-confidence isunmasked, and the willingness to learn is discovered. Not only does horseback riding entailphysical benefits for a special needs, handicapped, or disabled rider, but social and educationalbenefits are accompanying parts of the equine assisted therapy package.
Works CitedAmerican Hippotherapy Association. “Hippotherapy as a Treatment Strategy.”American Hippotherapy Association. Ed. American Hippotherapy Association.American Hippotherapy Association, 2010. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.americanhippotherapyassociation.org/hippotherapy/hippotherapy-as-a-treatment-strategy/>. Details the psychological and physical benefits of Hippotherapy.“The Benfits of Equine Assited Activities and Therapies.” Therapeion Therapeutic Riding Center.N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.therapeiontrc.com/Benefits.html>. Gives a briefhistory of the NARHA and EFMHA. Details each of the benefits of therapeutic riding thoroughly.Fischbach, Nora. “The Benefits of Therapeutic Riding: Educational Benefits.” StridesTherapeutic Riding. Ed. Nora Fischbach. N.p., 1999. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.strides.org/educational.html>. Goes into specific educational benefits that are acquiredthrough therapeutic riding.- - -. “The Benefits of Therapeutic Riding: Physical Benefits.” Strides Therapeutic Riding. Ed.Nora Fischbach. N.p., 1999. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.strides.org/physical.html>. Noragives specific physical benefits of therapeutic riding.- - -. “The Benefits of Therapeutic Riding: Social Benefits.” Strides Therapeuitc Riding. Ed. NoraFischbach. N.p., 1999. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.strides.org/social.html>. Goes intodetail about specific social benefits that come through therapeutic riding.Jacobs, Leslie. “Therapeutic Horseback Riding.” Jacob’s Ladder. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.<http://www.jacobsladderriding.com/benefits.html>. Jacob’s Ladder is a therapeutic riding centerthat specifically works with disabled and special needs children. They use horses to stimulatethe children’s brains and to help develop their muscles and basic motor skills.McFarlane, Lisa. “Horse Riding- The Physical Benfits.” Horse Ways. ScottishOutdoor Access Code, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.designmark.co.uk/horseways/horseriding_the_physical_benefits.html>. Breaks away fromthe therapeutic riding benefits and details the benefits of riding for the general population.Miller, John H, and Antoine J Alston, Dr. “Therapeutic Riding: An Educational Tool for Childrenwith Disabilities as Viewed by Parents.” Journal of Southern Agricultural Education Research54.1 (2004): n. pag. PDF file. Gives interviews of parents of special needs children who havebenefited through therapeutic riding and shows their findings.Nugent, Bethany. BEATS. Ed. Bethany Nugent. Bethany’s Equine and Aquatic Therapy, n.d.Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.beats-inc.org/beats_programs.asp>. Details the process ofHippotherapy and Therapeutic riding. Describes BEAT’s services in these areas.United Cerebal Palsy. “Horseback Riding.” United Cerebal Palsy. United Cerebal Palsy,n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://affnet.ucp.org/ucp_channeldoc.cfm/1/15/11383/11383-11383/2833>. Details the benefits of therapeutic riding, hippo-therapy, and lists otherpsychological benefits received through riding.