The Therapeutic Benefits of Horseback Riding
According to the Central Area Therapeutic Riding Association, the benefits of therapeutic riding extend beyond just the physical strengthening. Horseback riding is used for the physically, mentally, and emotionally challenged. The reason that these challenged are the perfect candidates for what horseback riding offers is due to the fact that they often lack the ability to perform basic functions, such as balance, posture, ambulation and dexterity. The desired effect of therapeutic riding is to improve the circulation, balance, respiratory capacity, coordination, agility and self-confidence of the patient. The goal is to see significant carry over from the program into daily life. When participating in a therapeutic riding program a partnership with a horse becomes inevitable. The riding eliminates the need to focus on standing and instead allows for the patient to concentrate on balance and coordination in a rhythmic manner. In a more detailed way of describing this, the horse functions as a surrogate cerebellum, which will then provide the patient with varying inputs to the neuromuscular system which are observed in normal everyday human ambulation. The motion of the animal further creates movement for the spinal reflexes of the handicap that is rarely used in that of a wheelchair bound individual. The approach to the process is to treat the abilities, as well as the disabilities for the patient. Horseback riding should be approached as a way to develop functions. The motion of the horse as well as the body heat of the animal significantly reduce spasticity in the legs and further improve coordination in other muscle groups. The core control can also be improved since the rider must look up to steer the horse; the use of the reins to control the front end of the horse further facilitates hand control. Besides the physical benefits of therapeutic riding, the use of horses provides psychological growth in patients. Horseback riding is a more subtle form of therapy that allows the patient to form a relationship with a gentle animal. To understand the reason that therapeutic riding works, it is important to remember that the handicap that come to ride are often told that they are unable to participate in physical activities because of their disabilities. They are isolated, but by introducing them to a horse and the situations that riding presents the situation is altered and they are able to participate in an event that only few ever get the chance of doing. This allows the patient the perception that they no longer have those limitations and are capable. On the back of the horse, the patient no longer has to look up at others but instead others must look up to them. The view of the world to the patient changes, they have the ability to see the horizon and are no longer placed in a figurative box. Horseback riding, no matter the skill level, carries overtones of elegance, power, and grace. The effects of riding horses are self-esteem, as well as the self confidence that allows patients to further a can do attitude.
Bream, J. A., & Spangler, W. Q., Jr. (n.d.). CATRA: Therapeutic Horseback Riding: An Overview. Retrieved September 21, 2016, from http://www.catra.net/info/overview.html