When you hear the word “Therapy,” what do you think of? Some people might think that the word “therapy” refers to talking to a therapist about your problems or going to a therapist to fix a relationship issue. Others might associate that word “Therapy” with a hospital and how one would us therapy as a means to rehabilitate their body from a serious injury. But do you ever think about horses when you hear the word “Therapy”? Did you know that horses can be used as a therapeutic tool too? Equine therapy is a program that uses horses, as a therapeutic outlet, to help people with mental disabilities, physical disabilities, as well as using them for teens-at-risk programs. The benefits of therapeutic riding are extensive and has been the result of miraculous miracles for centuries!
Therapeutic horseback riding has been implemented for years and can be dated back to the 17th century! The term originated from Germany in reference to orthopedic dysfunctions. This type of horse therapy was documented as being used for gout, scoliosis, and neurological disorders. One of the first people to invent the therapeutic riding technique was Lis Hartel. Hartel lived in Denmark and suffered from polio. Because of the Polio, Hartel was paralyzed in both of her legs from the knee down. With the help of therapeutic riding, Hartel was able to conquer her disease and move on to win the silver medal in the 1952 Olympic Games for Dressage riding!
How It Works:
Horseback riding demands the use of multiple muscle groups to function at the same time. For example riding takes a lot of core muscles, as well as leg muscles. When a person with a physical or mental disability learns to ride a horse, they are being taught how to use and control their different muscle groups. By implementing different games and activities while the rider is on horseback, the rider is learning how to use these different muscle sections and learning how to strengthen his/her body. By sitting on top of the horse and riding, the rider is improving his core muscles by learning how to balance in the saddle. By learning how to steer, the rider is learning how to control their hands and strengthening their grasp by holding the reins. By using their legs to help steer the horse and balance, the rider is strengthening their legs and gaining more flexibility in the hips.
The benefits of the therapeutic riding program differ from person to person. The results of the benefits that are gained for each rider depend on the severity of the disability, the connection between horse and rider, the type of disability they have, and if they have the support system/motivation to get them through and complete the riding program. Some of the physical benefits that can be obtained through therapeutic horseback riding include:
- Improved muscular control
- Improved gross and fine motor skills
- Improved postural control
- Improved balance and muscle strength
- Improved coordination and reflexes
- increased range of motion in joints
Psychological Benefits Include:
- Improved self- confidence
- Stress reduction
- Emotional control
- Self- discipline
- Development of patience
Some of the most common disabilities found in therapeutic riding are Autism, Cerebral palsy, mental retardation, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and orthopedic conditions. With the help of therapeutic riding, kids and adults with disabilities can learn to gain control over their lives again. They can learn how to have better control over their muscles, sit by themselves, be able to use their hands, use their legs, and have a better outlook on life! Horses give people confidence. And when they have confidence, they are going to feel better about themselves and have a more positive attitude towards life. Equine therapy doesn’t just help to improve the rider’s body physically, it also helps to improve the rider mentally as well. A happy rider, equals a happy mind!