Horses Not Just for Fun...They're Also Very Therapeutic!

BY Jody Dahl | Thu 04 Nov, 2010

It's so interesting what horses can do for an individual. From just plain enjoying yourself at a dude ranch or guest ranch to offering true therapy for individuals. Horses have been proven as positive therapeutic options for individuals experiencing Physical, Emotional or Learning Disabilities.

Horses are incredible animals. They seem to sense when people have special needs and they try their best to adapt to meet those needs. These gentle giants are unbelievably understanding, compassionate and completely non-judgmental. Unless one is deliberately brutal, they continually excuse us for our mistakes. Horses truly give their hearts and souls for the people that love them. It is no wonder that horses can make such wonderful “therapists.”

The concept of therapeutic riding started in Europe in the 1950’s. Following the development of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, Inc. (NARHA) in 1969, an organization that defines safety standards and provides support for the industry, the number of programs in the North America began to increase. As of 2006, there were 717 NARHA member centers serving 38,600 children and adults throughout North America.

The horse’s movements are smooth, and for those who are not able to walk on their own, the riding experience can help to exercise muscles that are used in walking and for balance. For individuals with cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis, the smooth motion of the horse can help to improve balance, overall gross motor function, as well as trunk, pelvic and hip motion. In fact, miracles occasionally can occur! An adult rider who spent seven years in a wheelchair as a result of M.S., is now not only able to walk, but able to trot along with the horse as a volunteer sidewalker at the therapeutic riding facility where she first attended as a participant.

Therapeutic riding can also be helpful for children with developmental disabilities, mental retardation and learning disabilities. Many discuss how horse interaction and therapeutic riding are particularly helpful for children with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This type of therapeutic setting may help children to improve their...
 
    * Listening skills and the ability to follow multi-step directions.
    * Communication skills.
    * Social skills.
    * Self-esteem.
    * Left to right orientation and directionality (start at the front, move to the back, move left to right).
    * Sequencing (step one, step two, step three, etc. in order).6

Horse interaction and therapeutic riding can also help the child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to allow others to enter their world and eventually to join, at least to some degree, the world outside of themselves.

Therapeutic riding and horse interaction is a powerful tool for many as they strive to overcome difficulties in their lives.

TAGS: therapy, therapeutic riding

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