Let’s close our
eyes and imagine for a moment… Imagine small children in an arena laughing and playing, full of excitement. Can you feel the energy from all of them, with each smiling from ear to ear? Then you get the wonderful smell of leather, horse manure and sawdust at once. What a pleasant aroma! Most people would cringe and draw up
their nose at the “natural” scent, but not those small smiling and excited children. They come to the barn once
a week for their therapeutic riding lessons. Therapeutic riding, around since
the ancient Greeks, has proven to be a different approach to healing the disabled. The lessons have become exceptionally beneficial
for those who have taken part in the programs.
“The history of therapeutic riding has
been unclear of when it became a specialized field.” (http://www.strides.org/histroy.html). “Records of people with disabilities show that they were riding horses to help
the disabled as early as the days of the ancient Greeks.” (http://www.strides.org/histroy.html). I personally think that therapeutic riding
began before the ancient Greeks, maybe even around the B.C. era. Orbasis of ancient
Lydia documented the therapeutic riding in 600 B.C. During 600 B.C., it was acknowledged that riding
was more than just a means of transportation. It was also a way of improving
the people with handicap’s’ well being, as well as health. The first
study of riding as therapy was reported in 1875. The French physician, Cassaign, used riding as a treatment of certain kinds
of neurological disorders by improving posture, balance, joint movement and psychological improvements.” (http://www.strides.org/histroy.html).
There have been numerous people who have helped
put the word out famously, but there was one individual, who did more than just put the word out. She got involved. This individual was Liz Hartel. “Liz Hartel was an accomplished horsewoman stricken with poliomyelitis due to an outbreak in Scandinavia
during the year of 1946. She had surgeries and physiotherapies to help her walk
again, without the aid of crutches. She was determined to independently ride
again. She began daily-supervised riding sessions to help improve her coordination and muscle strength. Liz brought the most attention to riding for the disabled, when she won the silver medal for dressage at
the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. She went on to use horses as therapy for her
patients.” (http://www.strides.org/histroy.html). Along with Liz, many individuals, as well
as organizations are still trying to put the word out. Some of those organizations
may include the NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association), EFMHA (Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association),
and the E.A.P. (Equine Assisted Psychotherapy).
‘The NARHA was founded in 1969. It was founded to serve as an advisory body, to the various riding for the disabled groups across the United
States, along with its neighboring countries. The NARHA provides safety guidelines,
training to certifying therapeutic instructors to accrediting therapeutic riding centers, according to its own set of high
standards. It also provides low-cost insurance to its member organizations.”
(http://www.strides.org/histroy.html). “The NARHA was also founded
to promote safe, professional and therapeutic equine activities, through education and research for both, people with and
without disabilities. As the NARHA became more successful, the formation of a
new addition to the association was the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association.”
Next, the organization of the “Equine Facilitated
Mental Health Association was formed. It was formed to promote and educate others,
as well as clinical professionals to work with horses. This association also
set the horse knowledge standards pertaining directly to Equine Facilitated Health Programs.
The development and success led to the ever evolving program of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy.” (Mann). “The E.A.P. is a new field that is still in the experimental stages. The E.A.P. allows individuals to learn about themselves by interacting in a series of specially designed
activities involving horses. It is not about riding, but focuses on therapeutic
activities that take place on the ground, under guidance of equine specialists and licensed psychologists. The activities of E.A.P. promote beneficial therapeutic healing and growth.
It teaches the individuals how to deal with, and learn about their own emotions.
It also helps people to increase awareness as to how their emotions affect others in their daily lives.” (Mann).
Therapeutic riding is being more recognized around
the world. It is becoming a more popular form of therapy for the disabled than
any others in England. For example, “England has recognized riding for
the disabled as a beneficial form of therapy. It was offered to wounded soldiers
at the Oxford Hospital, during World War I. By the 1950’s, British physiotherapists
were exploring all the possibilities of riding as therapy for all types of handicaps.
There was even an association founded in 1969,with enthusiastic support for the “Royal Family,” called
“The British Riding for the Disabled Association.” (http://www.strides.org/histroy.html).
“Therapeutic riding came to the United States in 1960. It was developed
as a form of recreation and a means for motivation for education, as well as for its therapeutic benefits.” (http://www.strides.org/histroy.html). “ A form of therapy, called Hippo-therapy,
where the horse serves as the therapist has been developed. It has been recognized as a medical field by most major countries. Equine Facilitated Mental Health, and Equine Experiential Learning, as well as other
forms of horse-involving therapies are steadily gaining in popularity. From medical
doctors to teachers, they all refer patients and students riding programs for the disabled.
(http://www.strides.org/histroy.html). “Today, disabled riders demonstrate
their remarkable accomplishments in national and international sport riding competitions.
Riding for the disabled has become a well recognized and acclaimed method of improving the lives of those who refuse
to let their disabilities limit them.’ (http://www.strides.org/histroy.html).
“Therapeutic riding is the use of the horse
and equine-oriented activities to achieve a variety of therapeutic goals, such as cognitive, physical, emotional and social
behaviors.” (http://www.strides.org/what.html). “Horseback riding for the disabled
is recognized as one of the more progressive forms of therapy.” (http://www.strides.org/benefits.html). “Therapeutic riding creates a strong
bond and a special relationship between the rider or participant and the horse.”(http://www.strides.org/benefits.html).
“Equine assisted therapy is designed to
help disabled children and adults wit mental, physical and emotional issues that involves the use of multi dimensional movement
of a horse as the tool for rehabilitation. It’s designed to treat a variety of disorders. It also helps rid social and
physical disabilities when a person is on the back of a horse, because fun is incorporated and children don’t realize
its therapy.” (Deardorff).
In a personal interview with Kelly Hall, director
of Ohio University’s Southern Campus Therapeutic Riding Program, Kelly stated some of the qualifications of the volunteers
and horses. “In order to be a volunteer, you must complete an application
and training. The training evaluates them on safety rules and available jobs. It
gives the staff a chance to evaluate where they are at in their horse handling skills.
Once completed, they are matched to horses, instructors and participants. The
qualifications of the horses are that good therapy horses are about 14-15 hands tall, or about 4-5 feet tall, because most
sidewalkers are women that are abut 5’4, which makes it more difficult with larger horses. The horses must like peopling, having good manners and temperaments, be spook-proof, over the age of 5
and having no major health issues.
“One method used in equine assisted therapy
is that a halter is handed to a patient, instructed to go into an arena and catch a horse.
Depending on the approach, the horse may back away, allow them to put the halter over its head, or run. It can be a
very easy task, or difficult. It all depends on how the horse interprets the
participant’s body language. They may also try a variety of methods until they are able to approach the horse.”(Mann0. “In another method, participants are asked to go out in an arena without a halter,
and get the horse to move through a series of obstacles. If the participant is disrespectful towards the horse, it would become
fearful. The horse begins to cooperate and trust the participant when they make
a conscious effort. Trust and respect are earned with horses much to the same
way with humans.”(Mann).
“For the disabled, the ability to control
a horse as well as one’s own body boosts self-confidence, inspires responsibility and teamwork. Most of all, for the disabled it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience that promotes personal challenges.”(http://www.strides.org/benefits.html).
“Emphasis on education
and both psycho and social development may include educational, behavioral, social and emotional growth. Specific goals in these areas are usually incorporated in the standard riding lesson.”(http://www.strides.org/what.html).
“The therapeutic and medical model integrates medical or psychological development into a variety of uses of
the horse. When this is the case, an array of licensed physical therapists to
every kind of therapists in-between becomes an important part of the program.”(http://www.strides.org/what.html). With all the research and information
I have read, I know that with what little time I spend with my horses, I feel completely relaxed. I also get the feeling of
acceptance and happiness when I’m with them for even just a few minutes. I
can only imagine that the possibilities would be for someone with mental, physical, emotional or behavioral disabilities or
Therapeutic riding can be beneficial for all those who participate in the program, or even those who just enjoy the
company of horses. I know that when I’m with my horse Chance, even though
I don’t ride him, I feel a sense of accomplishment overwhelm my whole body. He
has taught me to be more patient in anything that I do, as well as more friendly towards others. He has also taught me to be more outspoken, because if you don’t speak out, then no one will be able
to hear you. You don’t have to ride a horse to be able to feel the power and love that they offer. When you do feel it, you feel it with your heart. I believe
that therapeutic riding does more than just heal the body; it also lifts the spirit if someone is down in the dumps.
carefully planned lessons, participant’s poise, posture, strength and flexibility results improve more with each lesson.”(http://www.strides.org/benefits.html). “Almost as soon as the participants
begin in the program, they learn better balance, self-assurance, while receiving therapeutic muscle stimulation at the same
time.”(http://www.strides.org/benefits.html). “When the riders learn to take part
in the care and up-keep of the horses, an irreplaceable sense of responsibility develops.”(http://www.strides.org/benefits.html). “Participants gain more advancement in their equestrian skills, more teamwork
and cooperation as they become more independent on horseback.”(http://www.strides.org/benefits.html). An example of improvement was when a little girl’s mother, “Lori
Quane, noticed that her daughter Emma became stronger, happier, has gained more muscle tone, and has built up her self esteem
to a whole different level. Lori has also seen that working with horses has been
more beneficial than traditional therapy.”(Deardorff).
is highly recommended that someone with alcohol or substance abuse addictions seek assistance from an accredited facility. An inpatient experience at a treatment center provides many advantages such as allowing
people to address their personal issues without the distractions of daily life.”(Mann).
While interviewing Kelly Hall, I asked her to share with us, an example of someone she thought has benefited the most.
She delightedly replied that she wasn’t sure that there is any one person who has benefited. Kelly also stated that the kids enjoy the non-clinical environment, the independence and freedom of riding
a horse, and the acceptance the horses provide them. An example of a beneficiary was a little boy who was not verbal at all.
During his lessons with the program, Kelly stated that he started making noises and eye contact as well as talking. His teachers incorporated horses in his lessons and his vocabulary kept increasing. I believe that someone who has been involved or participated in the program would in one way or another
experience an amazingly life-changing experience that would touch the lives and hearts around them. “Emma Quane was a three year old girl who had spina bifida stood up by herself while perched on the
back of her favorite therapist who was a horse named Bob. Since she started in
the program, she
more confident, looks people in the eyes, and doesn’t cling to her mother as much.”(Deardorff). To some, horses are just “farm animals,”
but to others, horses are so much more. To disabled kids, horses are much more than “farm animals.” They are angels
in disguise. Therapeutic riding and horses have both a powerful and emotional effect on all involved