“When riding a horse, we borrow freedom.”Helen Thomson
For two shy girls, interacting with horses taught us lessons that only horses can teach.
Learning to gently command something much bigger and more powerful than us taught confidence, patience, determination, and perseverance. We were squashed, pinned, thrown, bit, shoved… and loved it!
While our family was not able to afford many lessons, those few brief months changed our lives. There is nothing as exhilarating, or frightening, as mounting that majestic creature and asking it to listen to you.
They peer into your soul and listen when you whisper.
But what about kids with injuries, or who have physical, emotional, cognitive or learning disabilities, even if severe?
This does not limit a person from interacting with horses, but actually, horse interactions have proven to have significant physical and emotional benefits.
We experienced this first hand.
Riding for All Children
Following a serious car accident, we researched ways to help us to heal physically, and emotionally.
We were amazed to discover a local Therapeutic Horse Riding program where we were personally involved with an incredible team of dedicated, and passionate people – and their amazing horse helpers – who work tirelessly to channel the power horses have for healing.
What is Therapeutic Horse Riding?
This refers to all equine-related activities for the purpose of contributing positively to the well-being of people with disabilities, helping to achieve cognitive, behavioral, social and communication goals, and improve physical and mental health.
Hippocrates, considered the father of modern medicine, wrote about horse-assisted therapy used in ancient Greece.
Following an in-depth assessment, the horses and lessons were tailored to our particular needs. Amazingly, thanks to funding and the support of many dedicated volunteers, we could afford lessons we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
Qualified instructors, along with a volunteer for each of us (in the beginning it was two volunteers each in order to ensure we were safe through the entire lesson), took us through exercises and activities while on horseback, with specific goals to achieve. We were continually encouraged and corrected kindly during all lessons.
A horse’s gait mimics human movement, so we felt improvements in flexibility, balance, muscle strength, relaxation of tight muscles, and mobilization of stiff trunks and pelvis. Along with the physical advancement, we felt a sense of gaining more control over what we had lost, the confidence we could get better, and a feeling of freedom.
There are numerous studies, in-depth research, and positive feedback from this proven method of therapy. One such recent interesting study revealed that horseback riding improves learning ability in children. The effects of vibrations produced during riding activated the sympathetic nervous system!
Working with horses also provides gentle feedback about ourselves, as the horses react to our behavior.
Horse Therapy is actually being used in Korea to treat internet and technology addicted teens.
It’s really interesting to see all the areas horse therapy impacts if you do some research.
These are just some of the areas of benefit (there are so many!)
- Flexibility, balance, muscle strength
- Range of motion, relaxation of tight muscles
- Mobilizaion of trunk and pelvis
- Increased motor skills, reflexes and coordination
- Improved respiration and circulation
- Sensory integration
- Hand eye coordination, visual and spatial perception
- Time in the fresh air
Emotional and Psychological Improvements
- Increased confidence and self-esteem
- Patience, emotional strength and self-discipline
- Feeling of well-being
- Improved risk management awareness
Social and Educational Benefits
- Human, animal and nature interaction and awareness
- Respect for animals
- Improved social skills both one-one one and groups
- Studies show increases in remedial reading, math and science skills
- Greater listening skills
- Better ability to focus
Much goes on behind the scenes in selecting and training each horse. Whether full size or ponies, horses of any breed are specifically chosen for certain strengths:
- Ability to cope with a great deal of distraction
- Tolerate unpredictable and erratic behavior
- Be even tempered and gentle
- Be calm but not lazy
- Have good balance and structural correctness
- Have a smooth, good quality gait
A couple of horses we met naturally counterbalanced riders if they lost their balance. We saw horses gently endure being poked in the eye, never flinching at loud noises or erratic behavior.
Their unique personalities are taken into consideration when matching each horse with each rider. The horse and rider form a special, unique bond.
These remarkable horses are viewed as “equine partners” and treated with much love.
Who Can Benefit
The numerous conditions and limitations horse therapy can help with is staggering:
From amputations, congenital dislocation of the hip, neurological conditions like strokes, cerebral palsy, epilepsy/seizures and brain injury, and various other injuries; ADHD, autism, grief, trauma and depression. There are so many studies and countless situations and conditions on how horse therapy can help.*
*Some caution for consideration: allergies, size of the animals, and some conditions can be aggravated by riding. Be sure to consult with a physician or specialist prior to commencing any new therapy.
When waiting for lessons, we saw a glimpse of some children with some really heart-breaking conditions – they were purely joyful and simply radiant on ‘their’ horse.
Many parents invited us to watch their children, and we saw and heard first-hand how horse therapy was making a difference for their child one ride at a time.
It certainly made a difference for us.
The Big Sis