Horseback Riding Therapy

Horseback riding therapy can be very helpful for disabled people. Learn what those benefits are.

Helping handicapped individuals get aquainted with animals can be one good way to stimulate the senses and give them something in their lives to look forward to. One good example of this is the horse. Special riding programs often do wonders for handicapped people.

It seems almost everyone has a special wonder of and are somewhat in awe of the horse. This is especially true of children. This magical creature can succeed in instilling a sense of self confidence and self worth where many times a person cannot.

Physically or emotionally challenged individuals are often faced with failure in social and academic areas and shunned by the general population.

These individuals often read poorly, exhibit poor social skills in interaction with others, and experience frustration with receptive and expressive language. Lacking physical coordination robs them of the ability to compete in athletics.

Often they are labeled mentally retarded, made fun of, alternately stared at or ignored by the general population around them, and cruelly ostracized, resulting in very low self-esteem at an early age which may affect how they interact with the world for the rest of their lives.

Because these individuals often form an unusual emotional attachment, or a lack of one, caring for them can be an emotionally draining experience. However, the results are very rewarding and often dramatic with early one-on-one interaction using POSITIVE reinforcements that can often facilitate the development of "normal" living skills and improve the ability to communicate. Horseback riding is one positive reinforcement that works very well with these individuals.

This is because the person can actually accomplish something he/she has never been able to do before, giving a feeling of self-esteem and importance they may have never experienced.

There are physical benefits, as well, in horseback riding. Because riding mimics the movement of the body when a person is walking, in that all the muscles are constantly moving to maintain balance, riders with physical disabilities often show improvement in muscle strength, particularly along the spine, more limberness of the muscles, and better coordination.

One hour of horseback riding will virtually work every muscle in your body. The strengthening of the trunk muscles of the body not only positively affect the person's posture, but respiration and speech will also improve due to the increased trunk strength.

For individuals with mental or emotional disabilities, the bond formed with the horse can lead to increased socialization in other areas of their lives. Sometimes this is their first interaction with others where they are accepted for who they really are and it gives them the confidence to reach out and take chances in other social situations.

For people with cerebral palsy, riding works best for maintaining range of motion and joint flexibility if a well-aligned, correct posture on the horse is always a goal. There is no substitute for a horse with good, symmetric movement. Many riders with cerebral palsy can achieve normal balance, posture and movement on a horse if the instructor takes a long, slow approach, focusing on posture and alignment.

An individual involved in a special riding therapy center can also form an emotional attachment with other humans who interact with them there, from the volunteer who walks beside the horse, the riding instructor who leads the class, the driver of the transportation who takes them there, or to other people participating in the program.

Often their delight in these experiences will overcome communication disabilities. The need to share these new found skills and accomplishments can be stronger than the reluctance to speak and persons who have never initiated a conversation will begin to communicate.

Riders with spina bifida have been considered to be the least problematic, most capable and most likely to benefit from horseback riding. However, because of their special health problems, a thorough examination and evaluation should be performed before starting a riding program.

Multiple sclerosis can be improved by therapeutic riding, worsened by riding, or even preclude riding altogether. In general, however, people with Multiple Sclerosis are often good candidates for riding, and this activity can help retain functional ability on and off the horse.

Most of the facilities who provide this opportunity to interact with the horse for handicapped people have long lists waiting for the chance to participate. Most are staffed by volunteers, parents and friends, and donated horses. Most are tax deductible non-profit organizations always in need of donations of time, money, or dependable, gentle horses and trainers.

© High Speed Ventures 2011