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Benefits of Horseback Riding to Special Needs Children

30 Oct 2014 – 11:43 AM EDT

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My 10-year-old daughter was having a meltdown in the car on the way to horseback riding lessons one Saturday. She deals with several forms of anxiety as a result of early childhood trauma she endured before we adopted her. Meltdowns occur when her world becomes overwhelming.

I encouraged her to do the lesson anyway. She rides at Special Equestrians of the Treasure Coast, a nonprofit organization providing therapeutic horseback riding to individuals with disabilities since 1992. Before the lesson, my daughter was screaming and crying in fear and anger. I saw her body relax as soon as she climbed on her horse. As soon as the lesson was over, she took my hand, apologized for losing her cool and calmly talked about what had been bothering her.

Why horses?

Horses are the most popular animal used for therapy. They react similarly to humans when it comes to social and responsive behavior. They have the ability to respond right away, giving feedback to the rider’s behavior or action. They naturally tend to mirror the emotions of the rider. This makes it easy for children to quickly and easily bond with a horse.

What types of conditions are helped by horse riding?

Equine (horse) therapy has shown to be beneficial to people with a wide range of physical, emotional and developmental disabilities. This includes cerebral palsy, autism, spina bifida, anxiety, depression, down syndrome, strokes and even diabetes. It is still possible to ride if muscles or speech are impacted. Trained facilities will have the tools and skills to assist riders of varying abilities.

How does it help?

The people at Special Equestrians say life simply looks bright on horseback. Other benefits include improvements to strength, muscle tone, balance, flexibility, coordination, head control, patience and self-esteem. It provides children with special needs with a sense of freedom and equality. The benefits have been document since 600 B.C. when Orbasis wrote his observations of horse riding helping those with disabilities in Greek literature.

Finding horse therapy in your area.

Path International is the Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship International. They offer extensive training and education to help ensure safe and optimal practices in therapeutic horse activities around the world. Click “find a center” on their website to find a Path certified provider in your area.

My daughter took a break from horseback riding when she hit middle school and became involved with soccer and band. Puberty has brought an increase in her anxiety and she’s recently started riding again. She’s also learning to groom and lead. Her confidence is already returning – and so are her smiles.