adoption · health · self-care

Benefits of horseback riding for special needs children | a guest post by Nicky of Horses and Foals

It is well-known how animals can have a special healing power, especially on traumatised people. I had a chance to personally observe some benefits of horse riding on special needs children. So when I got contacted by Nicky from Horses and Foals about a guest post opportunity, I knew what topic I wanted her to write on. If you are considering horse therapy for yourself or your child, I hope this article by Nicky will make you wiser and support your choice of this beneficial and special hobby.
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Animal therapy that involves activities with horses or an environment that has anything to do with horses is called Equine Assisted Therapy. Equine Assisted Therapy helps a great deal in promoting physical, psychological, social and educational growth in individuals, especially children with special needs. Equine assisted therapy helps stimulate the whole body. Regardless of their age, when the patient mounts the horse, there is an evident surge in their self-esteem. When other therapies such as psychotherapy, music therapy, speech therapy, sensory therapy are accompanied by Equine Assisted Therapy, it helps in increasing the rehabilitation of the patient.

Here is a brief list of how equine assisted therapy can help with various types of challenges.

Educational Challenges

Equine Assisted Therapy helps in improving concentration and attention. For individuals challenged with a low span of attention, horseback riding can help them learn how to focus and also promotes their problem-solving skills.

Social Challenges

Development of responsibility, perseverance, respect, and love toward other beings is promoted through Equine Assisted Therapy. The patient acquires a positive attitude, which helps familial relations as well as social integration.

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Physical Challenges

When the patient is horseback riding, their sense of balance gets better. Their dexterity and motor coordination improve as does their muscle tone. Equine Assisted Therapy helps patients experience independent movement in their shoulders and the pelvis. This is particularly helpful for patients who are looking for help in developing good stability for walking. Horseback riding also helps enable sensations throughout the whole body.

Psychological Challenges

Horseback riding promotes a feeling of self-confidence and self-esteem. The patient also experiences a sense of overall well-being. Equine Assisted Therapy helps patients overcome feelings such as fear and insecurity. Overcoming fear and gaining confidence helps patients do well in their day to day lives.

Equine Assisted Therapy – How does it work?

Each patient has a different type of challenge. Individuals showing same symptoms may have a varying degree of the same challenge. Hence every patient needs to be treated as per the requirement of the type of their challenge as well as the severity. There are continual adjustments in the therapy routine based on the progress of the patient. This means there isn’t a specific set of activities or exercises to be performed when Equine Assisted Therapy is administered. The therapy is customized as per need.

Various exercises benefit the patients differently. Exercises recommended are meant to target certain muscle groups, body organs or specific body areas. The aim of Equine Assisted Therapy is aiding patients to develop needed attributes and skills such as responsibility, accountability, self-control, problem-solving skills as well as boost their self-confidence. Equine Assisted Therapy creates a comfortable setting where the patient and therapist can identify and openly address behavioral and emotional challenges.

Which types of special needs is Equine Assisted Therapy most suitable for?

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

It is important to note that every autistic individual is unique with different challenges and varying degrees of personal sensitivity. The most common challenges, however, are sensory processing, underdeveloped communication skill (verbal and non-verbal), body awareness, balance and difficulty with concentration, to name a few.

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Vestibular sense organs help with experiencing spatial orientation and balance. These sense organs are situated inside the inner ear. These sense organs are stimulated by the incline, speed and direction change. Horseback riding makes way the requisite stimulation in order to invigorate the sensory preceptors. Thus Equine Assisted Therapy helps individuals who face trouble with sensory processing overcome their challenge.

When an individual is riding the horse, they learn how to balance their body and move their body in rhythm with the horse’s movements to prevent themselves from falling off the horse. This helps individuals develop body balance as well as develop focus on the horse’s movement.

Individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Individuals going through PTSD are in a constant state of being extremely vigilant. They feel imperiled by everyday occurrences. Horse’s status as a prey forces it to be vigilant at all times. When individuals going through PTSD interact with horses, they often see a reflection of emotional state in the horse’s reactions.

When individuals going through PTSD engage in horseback riding, they begin to trust the animal. This building of trust helps develop or restore trust in. this is vital for those individuals who have lost their ability to trust due to unpleasant life experiences like abandonment, marital infidelity, sexual or physical abuse, neglect etc.

By learning to take care of the horse and groom them, individuals going through PTSD can divert their focus from their own suffering. They learn how to channelize their care and love through friendly interactions with the horse. Working with a large animal helps these individuals overcome PTSD and gain back their lost confidence. This confidence gradually flows into their interactions with other people.

Individuals with underdeveloped muscle control

It is difficult to live in a body one has little or no control over. The challenges can be limited or no limb movement or difficulty with coordination or visual impairment or speech disability etc. Equine Assisted therapy helps individuals with disabilities get a chance to feel a sense of being in control of their bodies.

The movement of the horse can aid in stretching and/or relaxing the rider’s muscles. This can help the individual gain body strength, muscle tone as well as improve their body posture. It has been observed that horseback riding helps in improving respiratory disorders remarkable and is an excellent therapy for speech disability as well.

Conclusion

Equine Assisted Therapy helps individuals overcome a host of challenges. Be it physical challenges or mental health issues. Like any therapy, Equine Assisted Therapy sets goals to aid individuals to overcome their challenges and disabilities. These goals are periodically evaluated to assess the progress and redesign the exercise regime for the patient. That said, it is necessary to exercise caution. As a caregiver, one must ensure that the therapy is facilitated by a licensed/certified professional.

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Find more about Nicky and her passion for horse-riding on her blog Horses and Foals.

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