Recreation & Leisure
Horseback riding is a recreational and therapeutic activity enjoyed by individuals of all ages and abilities.
As a sport, it provides the rider with the opportunity to master the skills necessary to confidently control and steer the horse through various patterns and obstacles.
Horseback riding is also a means to access and explore the great outdoors. For many people, trail riding is becoming a popular recreational activity. For most individuals with disabilities, horseback riding is generally categorized into two types – therapeutic riding and hippotherapy.
Although both types of riding benefit the rider, there are several distinct differences.
Therapeutic riding involves teaching the rider the necessary skills and techniques required to ride a horse as independently as possible. The emphasis is not only on the physical benefits of riding, but also on the development of the relationship between the rider and the horse. The self-discipline required to understand and control the horse instills a sense of responsibility and enhances task concentration in the rider. The autonomy associated with independently riding a horse also serves to promote the rider’s self-esteem and positive body image.
North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) is the primary organization that supports and promotes therapeutic riding in the U.S. and Canada. NARHA provides program accreditation to ensure that standards are established and maintained, so that riding centers can provide a safe therapeutic riding environment. NARHA also issues instructor certification in therapeutic riding. Many therapeutic riding centers in the U.S. are accredited and operating center members of NARHA. For more information, contact (NARHA).
Hippotherapy does not teach specific techniques and skills associated with riding a horse. The primary focus is on developing balance, body awareness and muscle tone in the rider by responding and interacting passively to the horse’s movement.
The three-dimensional rhythmical movement of the horse is similar to the human movement patterns of the pelvis while walking. By placing the rider in different positions on the horse, different sets of muscles can be worked upon. The rhythmic and repetitive movement of the horse’s gait induces a constant need for the rider to adjust to the horse’s movement.
This natural physiological response elicited in the rider is used by the therapist to improve muscular strength, neuromotor function and sensory processing. More information on the American Hippotherapy Association can be obtained through the NARHA contacts at the end of this factsheet.
THERAPEUTIC RIDING EQUIPMENT
Adaptive riding equipment ranges from custom-made products tailored to fit the needs of a particular rider to multi-purpose products used for a variety of riders with different disabilities. A few examples include:
The walker belt, which is worn around the waist and provides two secure hand holds for persons walking beside the rider. The hand holds allow the 'side-walkers' to keep the rider firmly positioned in the saddle.
The therapeutic saddle has an extra support element for the back and a large, easily grasped handle in the front. These features provide a much more stable base for the rider.
A mounting ramp allows a person who uses a wheelchair for mobility or a person who may have difficulty with the traditional mounting procedure much easier mounting access.
For a complete listing of adapted equipment, see keyword: therapeutic riding equipment.
Some Benefits of Horseback Riding
- Improved balance and muscle strength.
- Improved coordination, faster reflexes and increased motor planning.
- Stretching of tight or spastic muscles.
- Decreased spasticity.
- Increased range of motion of joints.
- Improved respiration and circulation.
- Stimulates sensory integration.
- Improved visual spatial perception.
- Improved eye-hand coordination.
- Improved self-confidence.
- Improved risk-taking abilities.
- Development of patience.
- Emotional control and self-discipline.
- Expansion of locus of control.
- Development of respect and care for animals.
Riding as a competitive sport for individuals with disabilities tests the rider’s skills in controlling the regularity of the horse’s paces and maintaining harmony, lightness and ease of its movements. This gives the horse the impression of doing in its own accord what is required of it. Each competitor is classified into different categories consisting of individuals with comparable disability. Riding competitions are held at the local, regional, national and international level. The U.S. Cerebral Palsy Athletic Association (USCPAA) is the recognized national organization for Paralympic-style competition. The Competition Association of NARHA (CAN) also promotes competitive equestrian opportunities. Internationally, the International Paralympic Equestrian Committee (IPEC) governs equestrian competition for individuals with disabilities.
LOCATING A PROGRAM
The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) has over 600 centers across the United States with over 30,000 people with disabilties participating in their programs. Operations vary in size from large to small, with some of the largest having several therapists and instructors. NARHA provides program accreditation to ensure high safety standards at riding centers, and three levels of instructor certification.
NARHA has many items for sale, including a NARHA guide, which includes information on therapeutic riding, managing an existing riding center, and NARHA programs and events across the US.
NARHA also maintains an extensive website with information on therapeutic riding, the American Hippotherapy Association, “CAN” - the Competitive Association of NARHA, “EFP” - Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy, and the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association. Their address is:
P.O. Box 33160
Denver, CO 80233
Phone: 800-369-RIDE or 303-452-1212
NARHA PUBLICATIONS (contact NARHA for costs and ordering information, or check the website): NARHA Guide Start-Up Packet General Workshop Notebook NARHA Curriculum for Riding Therapy NARHA Operating Standards NARHA Instructor Educational Guide DRIVING for the DISABLED
Dr. Walter Bobechko, Director of Humana Advanced Surgical Institute, Orthopedic Center of Dallas, TX, states, “children and adults riding at NARHA centers experience a wide-range of benefits including increased flexibility (mentally, emotionally and physically), and better balance to greater confidence, and self-esteem. These benefits are often reported in conjunction with friendships formed during the therapeutic riding experience with people ranging from the van driver and the volunteer side walker, to the horse itself. In addition to the physical benefits, therapeutic riding offers psychological benefits, because riders feel a sense of achievement and control. Therapeutic riding requires balance and muscular control that often enhances or expedites recovery. The slow continuous motion of the horse is therapeutic and helps develop the muscles around the spine.”
STRIDES Therapeutic Riding
P.O. Box 572455
Tarzana, CA 91357-2455
Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center
13300 6th Court North (behind Palms West Hospital)
Loxahatchee Groves, FL 33470
Critter Creek Therapeutic Riding
Jean Green, Instructor
Rt. 2 Box 59D
Lawton, OK 73501
580-353-5472 or 800-690-6739
S.I.R.E - Self Improvement Thru Riding Education
Rt. 2 Box 56
Hockley, TX 77447
New Horizons Rocky River Farm
2025 North Russell Rd.
Bloomington, IN 47408
This is just a sampling of therapeutic riding sites from the Internet. Searching the Internet by words such as: “therapeutic riding,” “horseback riding, disabilities,” “handicapped, riding,” will give you many more programs, stables, and websites to view. A local riding stable may also be able to direct you to either an instructor or a riding program that is close to your home.
More information on this and related topics may be available in the NCPAD Citation Database. Try searching with keywords: horse, riding, etc.
The information provided here is offered as a service only. The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, University of Illinois at Chicago, the National Center on Accessibility, and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago do not formally recommend or endorse the equipment listed. As with any products or services, consumers should investigate and determine on their own which equipment best fits their needs and budget.