by Mike Shortridge
Horseback riding has long been associated as a beneficial therapy for disabled children, helping them physically, emotionally and socially, not to mention providing them with a really enjoyable pastime to take part in with their friends and family.
We had a chat with Russ over at www.horseseller.com.au who helped us with the following info.
Horse riding boosts children’s confidence
Studies have shown that 90% of these riders experience an improvement in their confidence while 80% see improvement in their physical fitness and ability within around 12 weeks of starting horse riding therapy.
Riding therapy can even be prescribed now by doctors and physiotherapists due to the recognised wide-ranging benefits which it has brought to thousands of disabled children over the years. The only problem can be finding a suitably qualified centre to offer the therapy as it’s not that common place.
So why is riding therapy so good?
The key reason it makes such a difference is down to the way the horse moves. Riding a horse provides a connection with the horse’s rhythm, warmth and movement, all of which help children to relax and enjoy the experience, while benefiting from the exercise at the same time.
Horse riding provides a really enjoyable and fun workout. Some of the benefits include strengthened core muscles, improved strength and better posture. All these physical improvements can really help disabled children to cope better with their conditions and improve their overall fitness.
Other improvements which have been seen include better co-ordination skills and improved balance from working the muscles to stay on the horse. For children with mobility and motor problems, these skills can make a huge difference.
Is it just physical exercise which the children benefit from?
Research into riding as therapy has also demonstrated that the children improve their own communication skills, confidence levels and really grow as they learn and take on board how to enjoy horse riding and improve their riding skills.
The children grow by experiencing new things, and meeting new people – they can develop new relationships with the animals, the instructors and other children who might be riding with them. This leads to better social interaction and confidence levels.
What about children with sensory issues?
The shape of a horse and the way it moves provides an amazing sensory experience for the disabled child as well. As the animal walks the rider can feel the movement through their pelvis, spine and legs, which helps to stretch the joints and improve circulation.
Sitting on a moving animal also requires the children to be constantly using their muscles to remain balanced and stay on the horse, without even realising it, meaning their core is strengthening and their muscles are being used in ways which are only possible through horse riding.
What kind of conditions does riding therapy help with?
Riding therapy is of course not suitable for everyone but it can be really helpful to those with cerebral palsy, developmental problems, disorders such as autism and Down’s syndrome. It can also help children who have suffered injuries.
One of the benefits is children with similar conditions can meet each other and realise they are not alone in dealing with their particular difficulties and challenges. It can also put parents in contact with other parents going through the same thing, creating a bonding opportunity for the whole family.
How else does riding help disabled children?
Horse riding takes the children out of their comfort zone and gives them new challenges. Riding outside means they can experience different environments which they might have never seen before, such as riding through the woods, or in the countryside.
For children who are physically challenged, horse riding can be incredibly freeing, giving them an experience of movement, height and sensory stimulation which they couldn’t get with any other type of exercise.
Being on a horse allows them to explore new adventures and worlds, which might not be possible in their everyday life, giving them a completely different vantage point from which to see everything around them.
Horse riding is an incredibly fun, enjoyable experience for all riders but for disabled children in particular it can bring unexpected physical and emotional benefits. From improving muscle strength, to assisting with balance and posture issues, riding horses can provide a great deal of positive physical improvements for youngsters.
From an emotional point of view, forming a relationship with a horse can help socially challenged children to make a new friend, boosting their confidence and helping to improve confidence and communication skills.
If you think your child would benefit from this type of horse riding therapy then make sure you do your research and find an appropriately qualified horse riding centre which has specialist instructors experienced with working with disabled children.
Mike Shortridge is a freelance writer who contributes regularly for http://www.horseseller.com.au/blog. During his spare time, he likes to binge watch on his latest TV obsession and go hunting for obscure vinyl toys.