Let’s Hit the Trails: Equine Therapy

Charli Saltzman

I loved spending time at my friend’s house. Often times, we would spend those warm summer afternoons watching movies, riding the three wheeler, or jumping on the trampoline, but what I loved most was being able to ride her horse. I would ride as she would lead. Riding horses is one of the most wonderful feelings I’ve ever had. I love to feel the slight bounce in the saddle, the soft main, and the powerful stride of the horse as we rode in the pasture. Even though I grew up in town, I often consider myself a farm girl, and probably one of my biggest wishes is to live on a ranch with horses. Or, at the very least, perhaps I could take riding lessons.

Turns out I’m not the only one who feels this way. Equine therapy is becoming more common. To explain this, equine therapy enhances a person’s emotional state via the care, grooming, and riding of horses. This therapy has been known to help people with depression, self-esteem, confidence, and independence. It also teaches a great deal of trust and the proper way to behave around a horse. Horses are smart. If you are nervous around the horse, the horse you are working with is going to be nervous as well. Those who participate in this therapy learn to lead the horse from the side rather than in front or behind it. They learn grooming, tacking, and riding techniques. Adaptive Sports Center (ASC), an organization who uses horseback riding for those with physical, mental, and cognitive disabilities, even have some of their riders participate in horse shows. They are taught things such as barrel racing, trails, and pole bending, to name a few. Not only is this therapy mentally healthy, it also brings about an improvement in physical health as well.

For those with muscle difficulties or balance issues, horseback riding can work those muscles to make them stronger. Not only that, but being outside in the fresh air is always healthy. Horseback riding can increase metabolism and improve posture. It mimics the walking sensation, forcing those muscles that do not normally work to be exercised and strengthened. The organizations that include this type of therapy also provides ramps or platforms for riders so they are able to mount the horse easier. Along with teaching behavior around horses, how to control horses, and how to lead them, horseback riding itself is considered exercise.

We talked about how horseback riding is physically healthy, so let’s talk now about how it improves cognitive skills. I mentioned earlier that this type of therapy can assist in increasing self-esteem and confidence, but let’s talk about ways this is accomplished. First of all, people are taught to set goals. This may include, for example, training to be in a horse show. The first thing that will happen is that the person will establish some sort of goal, and the trainers will adjust the therapy to fit that goal. For example, someone who has a goal to become more independent and confident can take pride in the fact that they just controlled a huge, 2000 pound animal. If this can be accomplished, than certainly other things can be accomplished. The point is that they met their goal. Also, games are set up, and horses are taught to participate in these games. These animals have to be trained to get used to specific noises or equipment such as wheel chairs. Normally, for example, it is never okay to scream around a horse because it is easy to startle them. And, while these behaviors are taught to riders, the horses have been trained to participate in many different types of activities.

Horses are wonderful animals, and like dogs and cats, they are used as therapeutic animals. No wonder people love riding horses so much. For me, riding is a privilege as I don’t remember the last time I rode a horse, but all of my experiences with riding horses have been fabulous. There is this feeling of freedom and independence that goes along with horseback riding. It is interesting to see what researchers will find out about horseback riding in the future. Until then, let’s hit the trails and enjoy the wonderful feeling of horseback riding.

 

More Information

http://www.disabledsportsusa.org/adaptive-horse-riding-equestrian/

http://www.pathintl.org/resources-education/resources/eaat/27-resources/general/198-learn-about-therapeutic-riding

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ga61GfZXquM

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