Impact of Therapeutic Horseback Riding
The lives of LoveWay's participants are changed in many ways as they develop friendships with both our horses and volunteers. Some take their first step, some speak their first word-all become stronger, more able children.
Benefits of the program include:
- improved expressiveness in speech and language;
- increased attention span and memory retention;
- enhanced sense of personal responsibility and integrity;
- increased sensory and spatial awareness;
- improved balance and whole body coordination;
- improved fine and gross motor skills.
When the horse moves, the rider is constantly thrown off balance, requiring that the rider's muscles contract and relax in an attempt to rebalance. This exercise reaches deep muscles not accessible in conventional physical therapy. The three-dimensional rhythmical movement of the horse is similar to the motion of walking, teaching rhythmical patterns to the muscles of the legs and trunk. By placing the rider in different positions on the horse while moving (therapeutic vaulting) we can work different sets of muscles. Stopping and starting the horse, changing speed and changing direction increase the benefits.
Improved coordination, faster reflexes
Riding a horse and getting it to respond correctly requires a great deal of coordination. The horse provides instant feedback to every motion or action of the rider. Repetition of patterned movements required in controlling a horse quickens the reflexes and aids in motor planning. In addition, we use English saddles that require the use of two hands and promote left-right and hand to eye coordination.
Improved muscle tone and range of motion in the joints
Tight or spastic muscles will be stretched while sitting on a horse. Riding with stirrups will stretch the heel cords and calf muscles. Stomach and back muscles are stretched as the rider maintains an upright posture against the movement of the horse. Arm and hand muscles are stretched as part of routine exercises and the act of holding and using the reins. The rhythmic motion of the horse reduces spasticity. Extensor spasms of the lower limbs receive therapeutic muscle stimulation. Improved muscle strength will also be evidenced as well as increased flexibility of abductor thigh muscles. Since the process of interacting with a horse is fun, we also see increased tolerance for exercise.
Increased respiration, circulation and digestion
Trotting and cantering increase respiration and circulation. In addition to the student receiving this benefit, the volunteers who side walk or lead a horse receive these benefits. When the digestive tract is stimulated it increases the efficiency of digestion.
Improved personal interactions
Autistic students are often unable to form emotional and social bonds with others. Learning to care for the horse as well as learning to ride requires that the student interact with the horse, instructor and volunteers. We often see such students begin to interact and respond in a meaningful way with those around them during their lessons.