The Positive Effects of Therapeutic Riding

Here is a paper submitted by Stable Connections Stable Manager, Avi Challinor on the advantages of Therapeutic Riding. Many thanks to Avi for her permission to reprint her paper.

Hello, my name is Aviara Challinor and I am from the Spartans FCCLA in Whitefield, NH. Today I will be telling you about how can we help communicate to the disabled. Have you ever considered how the importance of different society and communal groups affect each and every one of us? Communal groups range from the disabled to the normal to even the socially awkward. One part about these communal groups is the fact that they all need something to make them stand out and help them through life. The normal group goes to school and work, but what does the disabled group do? Therapeutic riding is an important part of helping the disabled community to stand out and feel better about their lifestyle. Therapeutic riding has been around since the 1960’s. Unfortunately, therapeutic riding is not well known among all communal groups, but we could make a difference.

Therapeutic riding can create a sense of well being and define organization for those that are disabled as well as many other communities. You may be thinking why this matters and what does it mean to us in the “normal” community? So now I will tell you what therapeutic riding really is. The true definition of therapeutic riding is equine therapy in which disabled individuals ride horses to relax, and to develop muscle tone, coordination, confidence, and social well-being. It can also be used for rehabilitation of those with serious injuries. For example, car accident victims would be most common, as well as those recovering from surgery for joint or muscle issues. Therapeutic riding is an equine-assisted activity with the purpose of contributing positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being of individuals with special needs. Therapeutic riding provides benefits in the areas of health, education, sport and recreation/leisure.

As you may have heard, there are many different areas of the body systems that therapeutic riding contributes to. These include cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being. Therapeutic riding focuses on forming a partnership with the horse. Sitting astride a horse increases balance and coordination, while strengthening muscles and bringing out the body awareness of your surroundings. In addition to this, it decreases the stress on the muscles while gaining more mobility and more brain power with consciousness following. How does therapeutic riding help the other major bodily systems? The physical part focuses on sensory systems. Sensory impairment involves visual and hearing impairment, dyspraxia and sensory integration/processing dysfunction. But the kind of horses to ride depends largely on the type of sensory impairment the riders have. A horse with even, consistent, distinctive gaits and which allows development of their senses is considered for riders with visual impairment. Riders with social integration disorders often have a heightened sense of touch and feel, so they are assigned horses with very smooth gaits. For their comfort, a fleece pad on the saddle is advisable. With physical considerations, you also have Hypertonia and Hypotonia.

Hypertonia is in patients who have had strokes, spastic cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury, characterized by muscle tone increase in the limbs. During rides, the horse’s movement naturally mimics a person’s motion while walking. In this way, the horse aids in relaxing the rider’s muscles and increasing his or her balance and flexibility. Riders increase their sense of control when riding narrowly-built horses with smooth bearings. This experience helps build in them feeling of freedom and confidence through equestrian or equine therapy. In Hypotonia, patients will have decreased muscle tone in the body trunk area. Riders with ataxic, hypotonic cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, or traumatic brain injury are helped in many ways when they are mounted on wider horses. These horses give patients the feeling of stability and with bigger gaits, also helps the weakened muscles that are stimulated. Trainers noticed that during the first few sessions, hypotonia patients are unable to support themselves but after a few months, observable changes can be noted that they are able to hold themselves up! With a person with an emotional disability, you will go to the cognitive side of the therapy – while maybe not having them ride or having them deal with the horse at first but until they feel comfortable with their surroundings. While emotional effects are on the cognitive side of the therapy, working on the social-well-being will contribute with the physical part of therapy as well.

Since I was able to work at the horse barn, and have been riding for 6 years, I have learned to love the way I feel when I help out those in need, while also enjoying my time. My personal experience with these magnificent creatures and those people who either depend on others or need help from others has shaped my life in the best way possible. When I was younger, I never knew about therapeutic riding,  all I knew about was horse shows and riding lessons. As I grew up, my knowledge around horses as well as horse related activities has expanded greatly.

Three years ago was my first time seeing someone with a disability that my mom did not work with. He had cerebral palsy and struggled with some of the movements of his body. For example, what if he had trouble with moving a hand and arm. What would you do to help and how can you fix it? These were the questions I asked myself and was too shy to ask the instructor. I regret everyday since that not taking the time to ask there questions. Fortunately, a year passed and I got the job there and I got to work with him and others with the same as well as different disabilities.

My first day there was probably my hardest due to the fact that I was learning how my job worked and what was the best possible way to complete my job. The major part of why it was the hardest is because I did not know how to feel about these people and the way their life has been changed around with the difficulty level rising and the common sense either decreasing or not be able to have normal body functions. Also I just learned about therapeutic riding. As I realized this, I figured out a way that would make me and them happy at the same time. I would soon start to talk to them and listen very closely to figure out what they are saying as well as being able to comprehend and create a conversation with them.

The longer I worked there and learned to communicate better with the people around me, I also came to realize about how this is something I want to do when I get older if my current dream job does not work out of being a Veterinarian. Sometimes I wonder to myself, what if I never did this job, what if I never went to that barn and rode there? What would have been different if I asked that one simple question on my first day? Well, it would have played out differently as well as help me and maybe guide me through life a little better.

As I keep maturing through life and keep on figuring out what paths I should take, I will also choose the path to create a new adventure that involves equines as well as people with disabilities.

As an overview, I have discussed many different types as well as many different features of the body that therapeutic riding helps tribute to. There were four, but only two were the main ones which included under physical part of the therapeutic tribute was social well being and actual physically active with the horse the two not so common and usually under psychotherapy and maybe hippotherapy are the emotional and cognitive which fall under the mental/cognitive type of tribunal help.

As those help tell us what Therapeutic riding is and what exactly can we do to help promote, as well as help the disabled community be out there with more and more people to realize the importance as well as with the huge compact they have in all of our lives.

What we can do to promote is to have educational talks in meetings as well as having talks in school where there are some kids with disabilities and people with emotional challenges or depression. With the younger age groups we will be able to promote and keep this certain part of the equine industry still open and still usable in years to come. So in the end, may you all be on your toes to help put a stand to creating a bigger and well known organization for those with disabilities or with those in need of help to be able to get the help as well as comfort that the “Normal” communities get and have.

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