Why Horse Riding Can Benefit Those with Mental Disabilities

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Horse riding has many unique benefits for people with mental disabilities, but what are these benefits? Discover more in this article…

There is a long history of using riding therapy to help people with mental disabilities and other psychological impairments dating back to Ancient Greece.

These therapies, known under the formal umbrella of Equine-Assisted Therapies (EAT), are particularly beneficial for children born with disabilities. This can come in handy for anyone who has experienced a birth injury or accident causing a disability.

Horse riding can be expensive, but a birth injury solicitors can help victims claim compensation to help them afford these rehabilitative exercises. Of course, there are other exercises to try, and we’ll be listing some of the different types of EATs to give you a sense of your options. But first, we’re going to discuss how horse-riding therapies can benefit those with mental disabilities.

How Does Horse Riding Therapy Work?

Over the past two decades, the number of children with special needs in the western world has been steadily increasing. According to estimates by the CDC, one in seven children are affected by some form of disability which makes finding effective therapies imperative.

Equine-assisted therapies (EAT) have proven to be incredibly successful at treating children with special needs, which has seen the practice expand over the years. One example, Therapeutic Riding Inc., grew from several horses in 1984 to 15 horses, four instructors and 220 volunteers.

The way these EAT therapies work is that individuals interact with specially trained riding instructors and horses to improve their socialisation, communication, motor control and sensory processing skills.

This is done through a series of exercises where people with disabilities apply traditionally practiced methods while engaging with the horses and performing tasks in motion whilst on horseback. This provides a multi-dimensional challenge and necessary exposure to a new environment outside the one they’re familiar with.

What Disabilities Can EAT Help With?

EAT therapies are used to treat a wide variety of mental disabilities including:

  • Autism
  • Asperger’s
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Language and sensory disorders

Multiple sclerosis

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What Are the Benefits of EAT for People with Disabilities?

Horses are non-judgemental, highly perceptive, and are able to connect with people in a completely novel way. This means that people with disabilities who find it hard to communicate with others could learn to communicate through working with horses.

It also gives children with mental disabilities the chance to learn life skills by doing something they connect with. This could help turn students who struggle in a traditional classroom into learners. In fact, every stable, tackroom, and arena becomes a classroom to them.

One example of these benefits in practice is that of Robert Graham who has Downs Syndrome and autism. Graham has been riding at Therapeutic Riding Inc. for 17 years, and in that time has grown from possessing almost no knowledge of horses to learning dressage – the height of horse training.

It also helped with his speech, confidence, and coordination, as well as teaching him to equip horses, clean stalls and groom the horses.

What Types of Horse-Riding Therapies are Available for People with Disabilities?

So, now that we’ve covered the basics of what these horse-riding therapies are and how they can broadly help people with disabilities, it’s time to dig a little deeper into the different types.

1. Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy is a form of treatment that utilises the movement of the horse to provide carefully graded sensory, neuromotor, and cognitive input to the patient. The treatment is led by a therapist who guides both the rider and horse to encourage specific motor and sensory inputs.

For patients with mental disabilities, hippotherapy can stimulate the neural pathways due to the concentration it takes to remain balanced on horseback and the natural reflex of trying to stay balanced.

This type of horse-riding therapy can also improve speech, as learning to use verbal cues for the horse, and speaking with the therapist, gives the rider plenty of speaking practice.

2. Therapeutic Carriage Driving

For those people with disabilities who are unable to ride on the back of a horse, carriage driving offers similar benefits.

Instead of mounting the horse, the rider sits in a carriage attached to the horse that still allows for equine skills to be developed. Carriage driving gives them an opportunity to create a working relationship and dialogue with a horse without needing to ride atop it.

The person with mental disabilities riding in a carriage will also improve their balance, posture, coordination, and emotional well-being.

3. Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy

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The benefits of working with horses aren’t only limited to riding them. A study published in 2007, by Pamela Schults, Ann Remick-Barlow and Leslie Robbins, showed that equine-assisted psychotherapy improved the function of children with mental disabilities.

Horses have been known to pick up on and mirror human emotions. These traits can be beneficial to those with mental conditions, as it can help patients build confidence, communication skills, trust, social skills, impulse control and understand boundaries.

4. Equine-Assisted Learning

Equine-assisted learning (EAL) is another useful horse-related therapy for people with mental disabilities. Through observation and understanding of horse behaviour, this therapy has people with mental disabilities reflect on their own anxieties and behaviour.

EAL is essentially an experiential process which builds on a foundation of self-awareness that can foster greater resilience, improve social skills, and stimulate emotional growth. It also supports the building of effective relationships by displaying the effect that people have on each other socially.

The whole therapy highlights the process of learning as opposed to the outcomes of that learning.

Does Horse Riding Benefit People with Mental Disabilities?

In this post, we’ve discussed how horse riding therapy works and how it helps people with mental disabilities.

There are many different types of therapies you can try from riding horses to learning about them, all of which have their own individual benefits. If you’re looking for a unique therapy that you haven’t tried before to help someone you know with a disability, horse riding therapies are definitely worth a shot.

Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained medical professional. Be sure to consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you’re seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this site.