Therapeutic riding is a more holistic approach to riding where the lesson focuses on care, skills, and riding technique. Rather than setting therapy-based goals, the instructor and student develop a plan for riding-based goals. The horse partners with the students to help the student become an independent and confident rider without the assistance of volunteers. Therapeutic riding can benefit youth in a number of ways including: increasing confidence, practicing communication skills, developing emotion-regulation, deepening empathy and patience, along with countless other cognitive, emotional, and behavioral goals.
Therapeutic riding is the use of horses and horse-related activities in order to achieve goals that enhance physical, emotional, social, cognitive, behavioral and educational skills for people with disabilities. It focuses on therapeutic riding skills and the relationship between the horse and rider.
Horses have been therapeutic aids since the time of the ancient Greece, and documentation of the benefits of therapeutic riding date back to the 17th century. Current therapeutic riding techniques began with Liz Hartel of Denmark, whose legs were paralyzed with polio. She participated in therapeutic riding and then went on to win the silver medal for dressage (training) in the 1952 Olympic Games. The first riding centers in North America were established in the 1960s.
Unlike exercise machines that only focus on one muscle group at a time, horseback riding allows the rider to use the entire body to steer, control and adjust the horse while maintaining balance. Horses move in a rhythmic motion that mimics the way a human moves when walking. The horse’s stride moves the rider’s pelvis in the same rotation and side-to-side movement that occurs when walking, and the adjustable gait (seat) allows the rider to continually adjust the horse’s speed to keep the desired pelvic motion. Together, the riding and adjusting promotes strength, balance, coordination, flexibility and confidence.
Horseback riding and horse care can give children a sense of purpose, freedom and independence. There are numerous benefits including, but not limited to: improved self-confidence, feelings of accomplishment, improved concentration, improved listening and communication skills, improved sensory awareness, development of empathy and patience, improved balance and motor and social skill development.
Safety is a top priority of the program. All riders are required to wear regulation safety helmets and are supervised at all times by either a spotter or one to two side-walkers, depending on their functioning ability. Horses are matched to the rider’s ability level and are all thoroughly trained.
Any type of breed or horse is eligible for the program, but we only use those that have great attitudes. Most of our horses are older and have had other previous jobs. It is essential to have a calm horse with a steady rhythmic pace.
Therapeutic riding instructors go through a training program and are certified by PATH, the national organization for therapeutic riding.
Children must be at least four years old to participate in therapeutic riding.