Therapeutic riding benefits patients with cognitive, physical, emotional, social or a combination of these challenges. Persons with disabilities are often restricted in their movements and interaction. With horseback riding or equestrian therapy, they are given the opportunity for independence and mobility. Riding an animal for therapy offers physical and mental benefits to the handicap individual who are usually refused of outdoor experiences.
People with specific disabilities are benefited in innumerable ways with therapeutic horse riding. Here are the common areas of disability that are targeted in many therapeutic riding programs.
This is observable in patients with in stroke, spastic cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury characterized by muscle tone increase in the limbs. During riding, the horse’s movement naturally mimics a person’s motion while walking. In this way, the horse aids in relaxing the rider’s muscles and increasing his or her balance and flexibility. Riders increase their sense of control when riding narrowly-built horses with smooth bearings. The experience build in them feeling of freedom and confidence through equestrian or equine therapy.
Patients with hypotonia have decreased muscle tone in the body trunk area. Riders with ataxic and hypotonic cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, or traumatic brain injury are helped in many ways when they are mounted on wider horses. These horses give patients the feeling of stability and with bigger gaits, weakened muscles are stimulated. Trainers noticed that during the first few sessions, hypotonia patients are unable to support themselves but after a few months, observable changes can be noted – they are able to!
Abnormal development and impairment in the psychosocial process that involves interacting, communicating, gaining knowledge or learning, planning and others is referred to as cognitive impairment.
Patients with Down syndrome, autism, and Fragile X syndrome manifest inability in many mental and social activities. Therapeutic riding showed that physical and cognitive improvements can be achieved through the patients’ interaction with the trainers, volunteers and the horses. How is this so? The program provides for riding skills and games on horseback allowing the riders to improve on their balance, sense of body awareness and spatial relationships. As a result, the riders develop self-confidence and independence. Communication is improved as the rider and his or her horse through the task skills every day, not only with the trainers and volunteers but with their fellow riders, too.
What is a learning disability? The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA clearly defines “learning disability” as a “disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations”. This specific leaning disability can be observed in many diagnoses of patients with attention deficient disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or dyslexia.
A supportive environment that takes part in the planning and execution of the patients riding skills improve riders’ confidence to achieve excellence in others areas of learning. The horse’s movement not only help build correct muscle tones to patients with physical disabilities but also built correct muscle tones, improve cognitive skills, concentration and memory.
Sensory impairment involves visual and hearing impairment, dyspraxia and sensory integration/processing dysfunction. But the kind of horses to ride depends largely on the type of sensory impairment the riders have. A horse with even, consistent, distinctive gaits and which allow development of their senses is allowed to riders with visual impairment. Riders with social integration disorder are provided with a heightened sense of touch and feel when they are assigned horses with very smooth gaits. For their comfort, a fleece pad on the saddle is advisable.