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Therapy Riding for Children with Special Needs & Their Families

Updated: Aug 8, 2022

When you hear the word therapy, it may conjure up images of just another appointment in an uninspiring environment with waiting times. However, Therapy Riding is anything but this experience.

Along with working the core muscles, riding promotes cognitive development and emotional growth. In addition, it is an entire body experience for a child. Horseback riding rhythmically moves the rider's body, similar to a human gait. Riders with physical disabilities often show improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength.

During a therapy riding session, a child has the opportunity to use the muscles from the shoulders to the pelvis. Riding on a horse in specific positions allows muscles to be worked that are otherwise difficult to engage all at one time, improving balance and core strength. This also awakens areas of the brain that coordinates movement with these muscles. For example, a child with special needs may have lost the cognitive ability associated with some of these body movements, but riding helps refresh that muscle memory. The rhythm of the gait is also very calming.

We promote verbal and non-verbal communication with the horse in therapy riding because horses speak in body language. For example, there is a connection between the mind of a nonverbal autistic child and a horse. They both think in images. In a lesson, communicating and controlling using the horse as a go-between can calm and open up a child to share with people as well.

Therapeutic Riding is a Treat for the Entire Family.

Parents have often described therapy riding lessons as an emotional experience. Together with their parent or guardian, a child participates in a physical activity that they can talk about when they get home. Seeing your child's growth through an experience they both enjoy and receive physical and cognitive benefits is deeply rewarding. Among many other additional benefits, parents have found that therapy riding has enabled their child to be more present either at home or out because riding has taught them to sit or be still for longer stretches of time.

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