10 Important Benefits of Therapeutic Horseback Riding
Equine assisted therapy is the practice of using horses and the farm environment as a form of rehabilitative therapy for individuals with disabilities. There are several different types of equine assisted therapy including hippotherapy and equine assisted learning, but this article will focus on benefits of therapeutic horseback riding.
Therapeutic riding is essentially adaptive horseback riding lessons, where participants learn horsemanship and riding skills in a way that suits their individual needs. I have partaken in therapeutic riding lessons for four years, and now aspire to become a competitive paradressage rider, qualify for the U.S Paralympic Team, and represent my country at the Paralympics. Today I want to share with you 10 important benefits of therapeutic horseback riding I have experienced in my time as a therapeutic rider.
1. My body feels amazing
Therapeutic horseback riding has helped me improve my core strength and balance, and has decreased my high muscle tone. I have cerebral palsy and am I wheelchair user so I spend the majority of my time sitting down, but riding gives me a chance to get out of my chair and improve my body condition. The movement of the horse’s hips simulates walking and simultaneously relaxes my muscles, so I feel much more relaxed and am more flexible than I was before riding.
2. I have much more confidence in myself
Before I started riding, I was too afraid to try most things because I was afraid I would fall or something bad would happen. Also. I was never comfortable in large crowds and always thought people were staring at me. Now, I want to try new things all the time and say yes to opportunities more often. I feel like I can do anything with my horse. I went from being terrified of public speaking to being able to share my thoughts with large groups in a clear and compelling way, all because the owner of my barn gave me an opportunity to speak about my experiences, which I couldn't say no to
3. Riding and being with horses is an escape from the troubles of life
When I’m at the barn, the only things I have to focus on is myself and my horse. Nothing else matters there. The calming sounds and tranquility of the environment puts me at peace. Being with horses requires you to be calm as well, because horses can sense your emotions and will react to them accordingly, so one has to learn to center oneself. Riding demands maximum focus and concentration, so it naturally creates a space where other thoughts can't get in the way.
4. I have a purpose and something to look forward to
Before I started riding, I didn’t have responsibilities aside from schoolwork because my disability doesn’t exactly lend itself well to doing household tasks. All I would do, day in and day out, was study, and it started to pull me into depression. Riding added joy to my routine and gave me a new sense of purpose, because I knew that at the end of each week I would get to be with my horse. There are always new challenges and things to learn as an equestrian. Each day is different and I never know what to expect. I now have set riding goals for myself and timelines to reach them by. The feeling when I finally reach a goal after working hard is indescribable.
5. I have an easier time building new relationships
My experience with horses has been a conversation starter for me and has helped me be less afraid to talk to new people. I have made a lot of connections because of horses. It’s easy to talk about something you love, and I am always excited to share my love of horses and equestrian sport with others.
6. I have a new four legged friend
My horse is my best friend. Even though I don't own him, I think about him often and treat him as if he was my own. I absolutely love every moment I spend with him whether I’m on his back or not. He has taught me a lot and has been the greatest listener. We have done everything from trail rides, to dressage tests, to obstacle courses together. He changed my life for the better and continues to brighten my days.
7. I have been able to meet others with disabilities
Prior to riding at my local therapeutic riding center, I spent the majority of time around my family and their friends, all of whom are able bodied. My lessons were, and still are the place where I meet others in a similar situation to myself. It is cathartic and reassuring to be able to have comradery and share life experiences with members of the disability community
8. I have a second home
Everyone at my therapeutic riding center is warm, welcoming, and supportive of my goals. I always feel at home there and would be there every day if I could. I come alive when I am there because I am accepted and can be open with everyone there. It is my home away from home.
9. I gain independence
Riding is my freedom from my chair. It is my place of constant yesses in a world full of no’s. When I ride I feel just like everyone else for a while and everything that I do in my lesson is my choice. It is the one time during the week where I don’t have to constantly ask for help, and it’s just me and my horse. Riding is my glorious freedom.
10. I learn new skills
Riding and being with horses has allowed me to learn and gain experience in a variety of horse related skills. I can groom, clean tack, feed, assist with lessons occasionally, lead horses, and hand graze them. While learning these skills I also practice spatial awareness, patience, detail orientation and a variety of other soft skills
There are numerous benefits of therapeutic horseback riding but I have shared the first 10 of them. Horses have changed my life in so many ways, and I don’t think I could be who I am today without them. They have boosted my confidence, helped me through challenging times, brought me joy and so much more. Equestrianism is my lifelong passion, and even though the present circumstances are keeping me from doing what I love, I know I will be ready to run back when the time is right.