Special Needs and Horses

Besides being a recreational outlet, horseback riding can offer extraordinary benefits to people with special needs—including kids. A disability doesn’t have to be a limitation when horses are involved!

Therapeutic riding (hippotherapy) programs can help with:

  • Improvement in muscle tone, balance, coordination and strength in disabled persons
  • Healing from physical injury, with an emphasis on regaining mobility and flexibility
  • Empowerment, body awareness, impulse control and relief from emotional and cognitive challenges or    disorders
  • Peer interaction, skill development and confidence building in a safe, welcoming environment
  • A typical special-needs rider might be a combat veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder or physical limitations, a child with cerebral palsy or an autism spectrum disorder, or a young adult with multiple sclerosis or trauma issues. There is a wide range of conditions that these targeted programs can address.

Why Use Horses for Therapy?

At the heart of therapeutic riding programs around the world are countless gentle ponies and horses that can be trusted to carry special-needs riders in a safe and comfortable manner. Depending on the rider’s level, they are often led or handled by trained personnel (sidewalkers and/or leaders) in a highly controlled environment and directed by a certified instructor. The warmth and rhythmic movement of these animals, not to mention their kind and giving natures, have a positive, soothing effect on special-needs riders of all ages. Children especially have been known to truly blossom!

In most therapeutic or adaptive riding programs, equine-assisted activities are tailored to the requirements of the individual or the group. These activities might include basic horse care or stable management, leading/working around horses, guided exercises both on and off the horse, gymnastics, vaulting, driving and more. At some facilities, equine-assisted psychotherapy is another option.

Remarkable things happen when people with special needs are paired with horses; these programs can improve overall quality of life. For more information, visit the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) at www.pathintl.org.