Benefits of Therapeutic Riding
Therapeutic horseback riding (also knows as "equine-facilitated therapy") uses the natural movement of the horse as the modality to relax and strengthen muscle groups affected by illness and injury, improve balance, coordination and endurance, and generally aid in restoring independence to individuals with diverse disabilities. This type of therapy is rapidly gaining the recognition and respect of medical professionals around the world and is becoming a viable form of therapy when used in conjunction with traditional physical, occupational and other types of therapy. Research conducted by the American Hippo therapy Association has proven that the multidimensional movements of the horse provide a rider with "the opportunity to explore, control and coordinate posture and movement." Further, research has shown that the horse's movement "provides powerful input to the arousal mechanisms of the central nervous system, facilitating the rider's focus, cognitive processing and adaptive responses." Its benefits for individuals with impaired cognitive functioning are unquestionable. Therapeutic riding further improves an individual's quality of life by providing positive psychological benefits and boosting self esteem.
Riders are encouraged to groom and saddle their horses. Manipulating grooming tools and learning how to use them correctly, and handling the myriad of buckles, snaps and straps of riding equipment challenge the rider's use of arms, hands and fingers. It's a wonderful way of exploring new tactile sensations as well!
Each one-hour riding session is tailored to meet the specific capabilities and goals of each individual. All of the program's lesson horses and ponies are safe and loving and have been specially trained to address the needs of each rider.
Riding and Autism
When performed in a consistent routine (1-2 times per week) with instructors who are specially trained to use the biodynamic of the horse's movement to address neurological issues, horseback riding can provide significant benefits to riders on the autism spectrum and those with pervasive development disorders. Some examples:
- Focus and Attention: To the extent possible, riders at Hope Springs Equestrian Therapy are taught equitation skills. The focus and attentiveness required to achieve these goals are miraculously aided by the comforting, repetitive motion experienced while sitting on a horse. Instructors work with each rider one-on-one to discover individual learning styles and develop appropriate lesson plans.
- Sensory Integration: By absorbing the constant, repetitive movement of the horse, the rider begins to become more aware of the movement in his or her own body. Sensory pathways throughout the entire body are awakened, as is the rider's sense of his body in relation to the world around him.
- Balance/Coordination/Endurance: Few individuals with autism get significant amounts of structured physical exercise throughout the week, yet many prove to be quite athletic. The pure yet simple athleticism involved in learning to ride promotes proper development of large muscle groups and thereby improves balance and coordination. Many of our riders show marked increases in strength and endurance after just a few months of riding.
Benefits for Youth at Risk
Anyone familiar with horses will recognize the special bond that these animals can form with humans, and the empowerment that can result from this bond.
Horseback riding promotes inner strength and independence in children, teens and young adults struggling with difficult family lives. It encourages young people to overcome fear and develop confidence. Handling and riding these large, gentle creatures takes courage, but the results speak for themselves. Because of their immense power, students learn quickly to respect them.
Caring for a horse requires a lot of work both physically and mentally. There is no "easy way out" of caring for a horse, which is what many young people expect today. Only hard work and patience are rewarded.
Hope Springs teams with other professionals, including licensed social workers, clinical psychologists and social services specialists to provide equine-assisted therapy to children and youth in the area affected by negative personal and family experiences, mental health and human development needs including behavioral issues, attention deficit disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, abuse issues, and depression.