Therapy Through Horses

Horseback riding is considered to be one of the most unique and beneficial forms of therapy for individuals with disabilities.

Horseback riding can benefit kids with disabilities.

It has been proven that a horse’s gait, which is similar to a human’s walk, can help strengthen pelvic and spine muscles, as well as improve a person’s posture, coordination and joint mobility.

The horses are either ridden or driven, which allows people with disabilities a way to travel to places that are otherwise inaccessible by wheelchairs, crutches and walkers.

Integrating horseback riding into a camp program is beneficial for participants in providing rehabilitation for both physical and mental disabilities.

Although it may prove costly in the beginning, the end results make it all worthwhile.

For individuals with mental disabilities, horseback riding can improve many important brain functions, such as greater sensory-seeking, sensory sensitivity, social motivation and the lessening of inattention, distractibility and sedentary behaviors.

A.H. Fine defines animal-assisted therapy as “using animals within a goal-oriented setting to implement treatment, and has been shown to significantly benefit cognitive, psychological, and social domains” (Fine, 2006).

The Effects On Autism

When using therapeutic horseback riding for individuals with autism, social skills and motor skills can be improved. Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by deficits in social, communication and motor-skills functioning (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

A study by Margaret M. Bass, Catherine A. Duchowny and Maria M. Llabre titled “The Effect of Therapeutic Horseback Riding on Social Functioning in Children with Autism,” proposes that “therapeutic horseback riding may be effective in improving social cognition in children with autism spectrum disorders.”

Their study used 34 children registered with the Agency of Persons with Disabilities who were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Diagnosis. These children and their parents consented to a 12-week therapeutic horseback-riding session, with a pre- and post-test.

The measures for these tests consisted of the Social Responsiveness Scale and the Sensory Profile. The tests assess the social functioning after the tests are analyzed. The test for Social Responsiveness Scale (Constantino, 2002) used a 4-point Likert scale that consisted of a 65-item questionnaire with points ranging from 0 (never true) to 3 (almost always true). These questions focused on social motivation and social communication.

The Sensory Profile (Dunn, 1999) is a 125-item questionnaire given to parents or teachers. It used a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (always) to 5 (never). The questions addressed the overall social functioning of children who show problems in modulation, sensory processing and behavioral and emotional responses.

The information was gathered by the administrative staff at the Good Hope Equestrian Training Center in Miami, Fla. Each child who took part in the treatment group received a therapeutic riding session for an hour a week for 12 weeks. The instructors helped participants mount and dismount the horses, and used a process aimed to stimulate verbal communication and vestibular processing.

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