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Learning New Skills with the Help of a Little Horse Power

Did you know that a horse could help individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities achieve cognitive, physical, social, educational, and behavioral goals? As it turns out, horseback riding and even just interacting with a horse can be a form of physical and mental therapy.

PATH International, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, defines “therapeutic riding” as an equine-assisted activity that contributes positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional, and social well-being of individuals with special needs. Its benefits are many, including in health, education, and recreation and leisure.

Around the globe, thousands of individuals with special needs are experiencing the rewards of horseback riding.

Experiencing the motion of a horse can be therapeutic. Riders with physical disabilities often experience improvements in flexibility, balance and muscle strength, in addition to non-physical therapeutic benefits. And the human-horse connection can help build trust and confidence.

At therapeutic horsemanship centers, professional staff and volunteers work closely with riders to ensure safe riding sessions. A new rider may be assisted by as many as two people who walk alongside the horse. Riding classes are generally taught by an instructor with a strong equine background and an understanding of various disabilities.

Several Philly-area programs offer different forms of therapeutic riding. Among many programs Ivy Hill Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Perkasie offers, Pieces of Freedom is specifically designed for autistic riders. It focuses on activities to improve communication skills and social interaction, sensory integration, and behavior modification. Ivy Hill also offers therapeutic community-based instruction retreats, which are non-mounted group activities for adults with physical or mental challenges.

All Riders Up in Garnet Valley serves individuals with special needs, including physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities. After working with a horse, students with physical disabilities see improvements in balance, core muscle strength, flexibility, and posture.  

Riding horses offers many benefits. Therapeutic riding is associated with improving the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals with disabilities. It can improve strength, balance, posture, and flexibility. But riding isn’t just about improving motor skills and getting better coordination.

Working with horses improves focus, concentration, relationship skills, and social interactions. And horses can help anyone develop independence and trust in oneself and others. Beyond better muscle tone and balance, riding a horse can also help a person develop more confidence and self esteem. After all, if you’re riding a horse, you’re managing to do something that most people these days haven’t experienced.

Interacting with a horse can also help individuals develop better concentration. They may feel calmer. Self awareness and focus can be enhanced through feedback from a horse. So can patience and behavioral control. Sometimes even minimally verbal autistic individuals become better at communicating after working with a horse. 

Stables offer riding options for different fees. Some offer scholarships to help families afford therapeutic riding. For example, Pegasus Riding Academy in Philly awards scholarships for therapeutic riding to clients based on financial need. Riders eligible for scholarships include disabled individuals from low- or fixed-income families, single-parent families, or families with more than one disabled family member. 

Happy trails! 

Therapeutic riding options in or near Philly:





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