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therpeutic-horsebackThe motion of the horse simulates the human walk.  Therefore, when sitting on a horse, the hips move in a forward and backward motion, side to side, and a rotational ‘swing’.  In addition, without interacting with the horse at all, his motion stimulates every muscle in the rider’s body through his movements, whether the rider has a disability or NOT.

Riding for Everyone
Using the right horse and asking for the right movements, every person who sits astride a horse begins to rehabilitate, and becomes physically and mentally stimulated. Without the knowledge of any horsemanship, each person starts on the road to better health…. body, mind, and spirit.

Riding for Those With Autism
So, taking this basic information, let’s look at more specifics.  Autism characteristics include issues with communication and social skills, thought processing, sensory integration, as well as physical conditions and ‘schedule’ inconsistency. Through therapeutic horseback riding, we have also found that people with autism are brilliant! We continue to search and try different keys to unlock those doors that will bring success to our riders.

Selecting a Horse
Therapy horses are specially selected for their personalities and dispositions. Some riders with autism experience ‘melt downs’ on occasion. Horses must remain calm even with screaming and an occasional rider hitting them. The horses may show signs of concern but should be trained through the assistance of the horse leaders to remain still.

Benefits to Riding
In the world of therapeutic horseback riding, issues fall under: posture/balance and concentration/attention. Therapeutic horseback riding stimulates all the muscles in the body 100% of the time when a horse is in motion and works on these issues in various ways.

  • The constant motion creates focus and concentration as well as posture and balance.
  • Through the use of horsemanship skills, the riders learn sequential tasking, multi-tasking, speech, and interaction with horse and humans.
  • When a child with autism begins to lose focus and concentration, stepping the horse up into a faster gait, such as the trot, brings the child’s focus back to the instructor and instruction continues.
  • Non verbal riders with autism have begun to speak in as little as three weeks. From that point, there is no stopping them!

Horses seem to be animals, although huge, that riders with autism share a meaningful connection. Many have spoken their first words to their horses, shown affection with a hug or lengthen their attention span from a few seconds to minutes. So the horse’s value includes physical, mental, emotional, and psychological improvements. The constant stimulation cannot be reproduced in a clinical surrounding.

Summary
Just as there is no specific causes as to the reason or rhyme of autism, there is no definite reason ‘why’ therapeutic horseback riding is so beneficial to those children with autism, but it is.  We know the motion of the horse helps the body physically, but there is just something very special in the connection between a rider and the horse that improves everything else!

 

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Sue Adams
Sue holds a BS in Education from Monmouth University. In 1993, Sue became a PATH International instructor and is now a PATH Advanced Instructor. Sue is the Chairperson of the PATH Certification Subcommittee, a PATH Accreditation visitor, Certification Workshop Faculty Member and Evaluator. Sue is the past president of Horseback Riding for the Handicapped of NJ and a private consultant for equine activities and programs. In her spare time, Sue enjoys trail riding, competing in Versatility and Hunter Pacer events with her husband, and walking the beach and boardwalk. Visit Hearts Therapeutic Riding Center.