For those with disabilities, riding a horse offers the opportunity for independence and mobility as well as a welcome escape from the indoor world that many inhabit. No matter what the student’s level or aptitude, his or her enjoyment of riding generates a true sense of accomplishment that can raise self-esteem and confidence. At the same time, therapeutic riding can benefit those with disabilities in many other ways.
Physical: Because the horse produces a three-dimensional movement pattern very similar to the movement of the human pelvis during normal, upright walking—a pattern that cannot be duplicated in usual clinical settings—many students experience a freedom of movement while riding that they may have never felt before. Riding also builds coordination and balance while strengthening muscle and can be particularly useful to those suffering from decreased muscle tone or hyper-spasticity. This leads to better posture and upper body strength, improving respiratory development and circulation.
Cognitive: Learning to ride involves predictable routines that are repeated at each and every session. The simple task of tacking up challenges the student’s memory and ability to properly sequence actions, helps improve fine motor skills, permits greater sensory awareness and integration, and promotes language and meaningful communication with the instructor.
Social/Emotional: One of the true strengths of therapeutic riding lies in its ability to create emotional bonds between horse and rider as well as between rider and instructor, a crucial prerequisite for successful learning. The discipline associated with working with a horse and the social interaction between peers and teachers can reap great benefits for the mind and spirit, raising self-esteem through a true sense of accomplishment and helping to alleviate the emotional isolation that often accompanies disabilities.