Equine therapy, or horse riding treatment, became popular in the middle on the XX century. Its goal was to help handicapped people in learning and physical development so they could return to normal life. Since then, doctors have been widely recommending it as a treatment method for children with autism, ADHD and dyspraxia. Horse therapy can help children with communication, behavior, emotional or social problems, physical and developmental challenges.
At the same time, equine therapy includes much more than simply riding a horse. A trained therapist builds a vast educational environment using pictures, stickers, boards, games and other tools. And adds interaction with a horse, of course. It helps children to train a wide range of social, physical and cognitive skills in natural surroundings.
Kids Learn Through Exercising
The therapeutic sessions usually take place outdoors, one on one or in small groups. In such an environment children are less likely to be overwhelmed with sensory triggers. That is why they can focus on the given tasks much easier. Plus, all these natural textures and smells help greatly with sensory processing difficulties.
Before riding, a therapist always gets the horse ready together with the child. It is important that a child builds a good relationship with the animal. Many children are struggling with motor skills. Every time brushing the horse, opening and closing buckles and straps, putting a bridle, they exercise without even realizing it. And while doing that, there is a lot to talk about that helps in practicing words and phrases. Working together as a team to get the horse ready is also great for social learning. It teaches how to help each other and share a job.
Safe Environment Contributes to Exploring
Face-to-face communication is often difficult for children with special needs. With therapist as a back rider, kids have more space to process information at their own speed. Truth be told, they find it hugely calming when somebody holds them tight. Feeling safe, children are much more eager to learn new things and explore the world. As a back rider, a therapist can see the surroundings from the child’s angle. It is a good opportunity to turn the world into a learning place. A therapist can encourage the child to focus by pointing to an object and involve them into a discussion.
Movement Boosts Cognition
The knowledge that a formidable and strong animal carries them, brings a lot of excitement to kids. Astonishingly, riding triggers around a hundred joint movements in a rider, which stimulates the neuromuscular system. It helps children to develop a sense of balance and space and learn to move the body and limbs accurately. Some children can get tired of the typical clinical in-door setting. The horse, however, can be a huge motivator to help the rider achieve the aim of the activity. Furthermore, it is quite easy to adapt physiotherapy and occupational exercises to horseback activities.
We all know how much struggle children experience in conventional schools setting. It involves so much sitting still and listening. However, scientific evidence shows that movement and cognition have a powerful connection. Many of us learn better whilst moving around, especially young children. Horseback riding offers this movement naturally but holds the rider fixed in a saddle. This way it helps kids to focus on the learning activity.
Horse Therapy Helps to Fight Stress
Riding a horse requires a lot of discipline to repeat the same activities over and over again. It can help build patience and attentiveness in children with ADHD syndrome, for instance. “Horses are warm and fast and help me with my homework,” said Ally Mitchell, a nine-year-old girl with ADHD. Equine therapy helped her to improve her performance at school and reduce stress.
A lot of children suffer from stress. And it is almost impossible to learn anything when you feel strung. Recent research has proven that contact with horses triggers a hormonal process in people which reduces stress and enhances well-being. Feeling the warmth and softness of the animal, spending time in the calm outdoor space, giggling with every bounce… All that combined, can lead to a much more relaxed state of mind where learning becomes possible again.