The great thing about horse riding is that every step the horse takes stimulates the child’s balance and sensory system.
Horse therapy helps us to gain self-control, both of posture and body and of emotions. During the horse’s gait, the movement it transmits is identical to the human motor pattern of movement. It is the same movement that human beings naturally make when they walk.
By the simple fact that a child sits on horseback and the horse steps, a series of motor impulses are transmitted that stimulate the child’s balance and sensory system.
Horse therapy for autism
In an article about horse psychotherapy, I read about a woman who adopted four children, one of whom had Asperger’s syndrome. In other words, he was autistic. As the boy could not learn the multiplication table and as his family had two horses, his mother encouraged him to tell all the multiplication times 2 to one of them and 3 to the other.
The child was able to learn and communicate what he had learned to the animals but was apprehensive about having to do it in front of the teacher. So his mother told him, “When she asks you to say the multiplication table, close your eyes and imagine you’re saying it to the horse.”
The child did just that, and his teacher, surprised by the autistic student’s performance, asked him how he did it. “I imagined you were a horse,” the boy told her.
Beyond the funny side of the situation, this real-life case shows us that horse therapy can work wonders. Both for children with autism and for other disorders and conditions.
Here are some explanations from a psychotherapist:
“The horse helps you with several therapy categories. One is the physical one, on the rehabilitation or stimulation side for people with disabilities.
The horse is the only animal that is comfortable to ride and has a three-dimensional gait, just like a human, it has the pelvic oscillations that a human has. A disabled person on a horse then walks like a normal human. It’s a stimulation that only the horse can do, physiotherapists can’t do it.
There’s also the fact that the animal has a higher temperature than our body; the heat stimulates the body, relaxes it, and physiotherapy is much easier to do.”
The horse teaches you self-control
Horse-assisted activities require constant mental contact with the animal. The child’s behavior becomes calmer and more assertive.
During riding lessons, the child keeps in touch with the present, becomes aware of his own feelings, and learns to pay attention to the feelings and non-verbal messages transmitted by the being next to him – the horse. In this way, it improves its ability to cooperate.
“On the psychological side, there are immediate and general benefits, which everyone enjoys. The evolution is very fast, often you see results within 5-10 sessions.
First of all, the horse teaches you self-control, both of posture and body, and of emotions. The horse is very sensitive and mirrors your reactions and your movements. If you don’t learn to manage your emotions, the horse doesn’t cooperate.
By learning to relate to the horse, your self-esteem increases. Being able to get on a horse, to communicate with a horse, to make it respond to your commands when it is hundreds of pounds heavier and taller than you, gives you increased self-esteem. Having that effect, there are very big benefits on the anxiety side, the depression side, that often go together.”
Another case study
Another story, also drawn from a psychotherapist’s experience with autistic people, shows that they can relate better to animals than to humans.
“By creating a good relationship with animals, children with autism can then turn it into a relationship with people. Let me share a story about a baby who didn’t move at all.
All the medical investigations showed he had no problem and the parents were advised to do therapeutic riding. The mother was a little more agitated and more emotional, and the father was a little more emotionally stable, so he got on the horse with the baby.
After a while, the baby reached for the horse’s mane. It was the first time he had ever stretched out his fingers.
Then, with the father having his hands on the horse to reassure him, the baby put his hand on the father’s hand, which was terribly emotional for the father, who had never felt like this before. After a while, the child also reached out to the mother, who was on the ground.”
Benefits of riding on the physical plane
- Stimulation of recovery reactions and maintenance of balance;
- improving body posture, helping children to walk correctly;
- improving flexibility, strength, and coordination of movements;
- improving breathing;
- normalizing muscle tone;
- symmetrical and independent use of the hands;
- better catching skills, better reflex times.
Benefits of riding on the mental level
- increased self-confidence and emotional stability;
- development of attention and memory;
- emergence and development of language;
- increased interest in the surrounding world;
- development of patience;
- increased ability to take responsibility;
- emotional control and self-discipline;
- interest, respect, and care for animals;
- social integration and better communication;
- emotional rehabilitation after various traumas or disorders.