Tribute to Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherapy

Humans and horses can form a special bond, some say due to “horse sense”. “Horse sense” is horses innate ability to sense the emotional and physical state of the rider, functioning as a living biofeedback machine.

So many people benefit from therapeutic riding. They include people with ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Down Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, Brain Injuries, Learning Disabilities, Spina Bifida, Amputation, PTSD, and Cancer.

Therapeutic riding has broad benefits including:

Gross motor skills including balance, coordination, postural control, and motor planning: Horse riding increases core strength. When a rider is properly seated, the horse’s unique combined forward and side-to-side movement causes the rider to involuntarily use many more core muscles than they would when walking or sitting. Balance and coordination is increased in order to maintain an upright position on the saddle, keeping feet in the stirrups, properly holding reins, steering and posting the horse. Because the gait of a horse is similar to that of human, riding helps and improves natural movements of spine and pelvis. Additionally, the rider constantly has to adjust and react as the horse moves through its normal gait pattern. These skills are strengthened additionally by therapeutic exercises performed by the rider on the horse. The riders are able to improve these skills while enjoying time with their favorite horse.

Multi-Sensory Integration: Horse riding stimulates all the senses. Beyond visual, hearing, and smell, the vestibular balance system is strongly stimulated by the movement of the walking, trotting, and running horse. Touch is stimulated from petting the horse, feeling the saddle, holding the reins. The proprioceptive positioning system is stimulated from feet sitting in the stirrups as well as compressive forces through the spinal column as the rider sits in the saddle. Rhythmic movements can often be soothing for a rider with difficulties regulating their systems. As riders achieve increased levels of sensory integration, they are able to better understand where their bodies are in space, allowing them to achieve more directed movement patterns and improve gross motor skills.

Socialization: Riders bond with the horse during sessions as well as the integrated team including instructor/ therapist, volunteers and others in the therapy group. As sensory organization increases, speech often improves, as well as increased eye contact and association with the environment. Learning to control thousand or more pound horse, almost entirely through body language, leads to improved self-confidence, self-efficacy, communication, trust, perspective, assertiveness, and boundaries.

Executive function: Riders are often very motivated to attend the sessions, and increase time management, planning, mental flexibility, emotional control, sustained attention, and self-awareness skills.


For more intense or specific therapy, there is Hippotherapy. From the Greek word, hippos, meaning “horse”, we get the name for horse therapy, Hippotherapy. Hippotherapy is a form of integrated physical, occupational, cognitive, and speech therapy which uses horses to provide rhythmic, symmetric, multi-dimensional and directional movement that can be repeated consistently during a treatment session. The horse movement is continually modified to meet the rider’s changing needs. Riders as young as 2 years old, benefit.

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