For an individual living with a disability, therapeutic horseback riding means much more than sitting on a horse. There are numerous benefits for children and adults with a disability. Here are the top six benefits that have the biggest impact on therapeutic riding students:
1. Increases in fine motor skills: Fine motor skills are increased when the student uses his/her small muscle movements, (Example: working to increase dexterity in fingers). From selecting reins, fastening snaps and buckles and adjusting how the reins are held can all increase a student’s fine motor skills.
2. Increases in gross motor skills: Gross motor skills are the ability to move large muscle groups (Example: this is essential for walking, running and standing). Getting on and off the horse, posting (rising and sitting to the rhythm of the horse’s gait) and 2-point position (putting weight in the stirrups and lifting the body out of the saddle) all have a positive influence on an individual’s gross motor skills.
3. Core strength improvements: Horses have a three-dimensional movement that is unique and unable to be replicated in any other way. While the horse moves forward, it also sways side-to-side. When a student is properly seated on the horse, this movement causes the student to involuntarily use many more core muscles than they typically would when walking or sitting on their own.
4. Balance and coordination: Sitting up straight and even on the horse, keeping your feet in the stirrups, properly holding reins, steering your horse and posting may look easy to onlookers, but anyone who has ever been on a horse can tell you otherwise! This is a true test of balance and coordination. Students who participate in therapeutic horseback riding are able to improve on all these skills while enjoying time with their favorite horse.
5. Social skills: Depending on a student’s level of core strength and familiarity of the horse, volunteers may be used, along with an instructor, in order to create the safest environment for that individual. While safety is usually the main concern, these extra helpers can create a more complex social environment for the student to interact with. Throughout a riding lesson, each student should have the opportunity to be engaged in conversation that aims to further the progress of social skills and language needs. The horse also provides social interaction, since students should always be asked to respect their horse and praise its’ good behavior during a lesson.
6. Sensory integration: While enjoying riding, students with sensory sensitivities can be slowly introduced to various textures, sounds, smells and sights. Many therapeutic riding programs integrate various items, as well as activities, that promote and encourage positive sensory interactions.
Those are the top 6 benefits of therapeutic horseback riding offered by a well rounded therapeutic riding facility. While the goals for each student should be selected on an individual basis (and the benefits are endless) these are the most concrete benefits many students take home.