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therapeutic horseback

Did you know that the motion of a horse underneath a rider stimulates every muscle in the body?  The value of therapeutic horseback riding offers so many benefits.

The motion of a horse helps a child to build core muscles through additional exercises while riding the horse.  The motion of a horse creates a motion within the child’s body that needs a balance response from the rider.  This balance response improves muscle strength and results in postural corrections.  In addition, this motion from the horse provides sensory input to multiple sensory systems, such as the proprioceptive and vestibular system.  This additional input lends to increased attention and focus in addition to enhanced core strength.

Increase Attention with Therapeutic Horseback Riding

When a rider with various isms is not responsive to our auditory, visual, or hands on cues, we will often transition the horse from the walk to the trot.  Moving into a trot stimulates the attention span of the rider.

After a short trot, the certified instructor has the rider’s attention.

The instructor then gives information the rider needs to complete a particular task.  She may ask the child to go in a certain direction.  She may then add on to the directive by telling the rider where to go and what to do when they arrive at the destination.

After the trot, the rider is able to follow the directives, demonstrating comprehension and providing follow trough with task completion.

Once the rider completes the task, we may again find that we lose the child’s attention.  As before, we use the trot of the horse to successfully stimulate the attention span.

Through this process, the horse becomes the tool used to increase attention span.  This walk to trot to walk process enhances the concentration of rider with varying isms. Through therapeutic horseback riding, riders may learn to turn left and right, perform circles, take control of their horse and become more self sufficient with sequential tasking.

Therapeutic Horseback – What the Research Says

Positive results are often seen beyond the therapeutic horseback riding session.  Positive responses are also at home and in school.

In one study, “Teacher ratings indicated that participating children with autism significantly increased their social interaction, improved their sensory processing, and decreased the severity of symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorders following TR (Therapeutic Riding). Gains were not maintained consistently after two 6-week breaks from TR, but were recovered once TR was reinstated.” (1)

Another study “indicates that therapeutic horseback riding had a positive effect on five children with ADHD in several domains of the social role behavior, quality of life, and motor performance.” (2)

Build Core Strength & More with Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Children with various isms may have difficulties with posture, coordination and motor planning.  For example, movement difficulties are very common in children on the autistic spectrum.  Did you know that poor motor skills and core strength are often associated with greater difficulties with social communication?

Enter the importance of building motor skills and core strength, which is achieved through therapeutic horseback riding.

Most riders react with a death grip on the saddle when a horse first begins to trot. We refer to this reaction as the survival instinct.  It is a conditioned response whether the rider has a disability or not.

However, when sitting upon a horse, children with isms are able to create perfect posture and alignment.  We have the children sitting upon the walking horse with arms stretched out like an airplane while looking straight ahead.  Most of the children are laughing or have a huge grin on their faces!

Therapeutic Horseback Research Backs This

One study reports, “Results indicated that 62.5% (5/8) of the subjects improved in their Postural Scale score, 87.5% (7/8) decreased their time to complete the level and unlevel distances, and 50% (4/8) of the subjects showed better coordination-based reach results from pre to post-.  These results indicate that hippotherapy sessions are a very effective way to improve physical function, specifically postural control, strength, and coordination in children who have been diagnosed with any type of developmental delay or disorder.” (3)

Another study backed up the research above, “The results of this research project found similar benefits for gross motor abilities, including gait, posture, trunk control and head control.” (4)

If your child is struggling with inattention, postural issues or is showing signs of poor motor skills and core strength, look for a local therapeutic horseback riding center in your area.  Visit PATH International to find a program near you.  I guarantee, you will be pleasantly surprised with the results.



(1) Ward, S. C., K. Whalon, K. Rusnak, and Et. Al. “The Association Between Therapeutic Horseback Riding and the Social Communication and Sensory Reactions of Children with Autism.SpringerLink. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 01 Feb. 2013. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.

(2) Cuypers, Koenraad, PT, MSc, PhD, Karin De Ridder, MD, PhD, and Arve Strandheim, MD, PhD. “The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.” The Effect of Therapeutic Horseback Riding on 5 Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Pilot Study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19 Oct. 2011. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.

(3) Thompson, Freda, Caroline J. Ketcham, and Eric E. Hall. “Hippotherapy in Children with Developmental Delays: Physical Function and Psychological Benefits.Hippotherapy in Children with Developmental Delays: Physical Function and Psychological Benefits. Advances in Physical Education, 14 Mar. 2014. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.

(4) Lovato, Robin. “Efficacy of Hippotherapy for Children with Developmental Disabilities.Efficacy of Hippotherapy for Children with Developmental Disabilities. University of New Mexico, May 2012. Web. 09 Aug. 2016.