Therapeutic Riding is designed to assist those in need of support with Physical, Emotional and Cognitive therapies. For those with exceptionalities Therapeutic riding is recognized as one of the more progressive forms of therapy. Once these clients gain the ability to control a horse as well as one’s own body, they are inspired with a renewed sense of self-confidence, responsibility and teamwork. Best of all, working with horses is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, that creates a special relationship between both horse and rider that promotes personal challenges.
Spasticity is reduced simply by the natural rhythmic motion of the horses’ gaits. The warmth of the horse If riding bareback, may also aid in relaxation, especially the lower back, groin muscles and legs. Sitting astride a horse helps in breaking up extensor spasms experienced by some in the lower limbs. Holding the horses’ reins, also helps to break flexor spasm patterns that may occur in the upper limbs. Fatigue also helps to decrease spasticity by producing relaxation, which helps to increased the range of motion of the joints. As spasticity is reduced, the range of motion increases. Range of motion can also drastically be improved by the act of mounting and dismounting, tacking up, grooming, and exercises during lessons. There are many developmental vaulting positions that are designed to aid in the break up or reduction of spasticity.
Although therapeutic horse-back riding is generally not considered as a cardiovascular exercise while most sessions will be mostly done at the walk, more advanced riders may be able to trot and canter, which increase both respiration we well as circulation.
Horse-back riding also helps to stimulate the tactile senses, both through touch and environmental stimuli. The vestibular system is also stimulated by the horses’ body movement, especially with many changes in speed and direction. The olfactory system responds to the many smells that you’ll find around the stable yard and farm environment. Vision is used in control of the horse and helps with improving balance. The many sounds that occur around the stable/farm, will also help to involve the auditory system. All of these senses work together and are integrated in the act of therapeutic horse-back riding. In addition, proprioceptors (which are the receptors that give information from our muscles to our tendons, as well as to ligaments and joints) which are all activated while on horse-back, which results in improved proprioception.
This includes our ability to understand relationships as well as having an awareness of form and space. Included in this area are directionality (knowing the difference between right and left); form perception (i.e. differentiating “m” and “h” for example); figure ground (picking out objects from a background); and visual sequential memory (such as remembering symbols that are placed in a particular pattern or sequence). Space perception also falls under this category, this allows us to differentiate between items that are close in shape but spatially different (i.e. “b” versus “h” for example); Reading and math concepts both involve visual and spatial perception. As a natural result, visual spatial perception improves as the rider improves there of control of the horse. Additional exercises are done on the horse to increase ability in this area.
Horse-back riding in a therapeutic setting also allows for the improvement of stretching out tight or spastic muscles. Sitting on a horse requires stretching of the adductor muscles of the thighs, which is accomplished by the rider pre-stretching their bodies prior to mounting the horse. Often times it’s helpful to start riders off on narrow horses and gradually working up to wider and wider horses. Arm, shoulder, hand and core muscles are also stretched as part of the routine exercises required while riders are on their horse and by the act of holding and using the reins. Gravity also helps with stretching the muscles in front of the leg as the rider sits on the horse without stirrups. Riding with stirrups with heels level or down helps to stretch the heel cords and calf muscles is one of the exercises that can be performed to assist with this as well. Stomach and back muscles are stretched as the rider is encouraged to maintain an upright posture against the movement of the horse.
Horse-back riding like all forms of exercise, allows our digestive system to work more efficiently, as it helps to stimulate appetite as well as the digestive tract.
Being around horses no matter in what capacity, gives people a general sense of hope, normalcy, and well-being. Exercise in the fresh air of an Equestrian Centre, or out on the trails away from hospitals, Doctors offices, therapy rooms, or even at home, also helps to promote a sense of well-being.