The Benefits of Riding:
“Eyes From Within The Saddle”
Traditionally, throughout the world, horseback riding has always provided a unique form of therapy that enables people to discover adventure, freedom, responsibility, excitement, and control. Human beings that are disabled, or non-disabled have been riding horses for many purposes since the beginning of time. It is not until recently that the label “therapeutic riding” or “hippo therapy” actually came into fruitful meaning in the horse community. Individuals with disabilities that ride horses are automatically classified by equine instructors as “therapeutic riders.” In actuality, horseback riding benefits individuals that may have NEVER been technically diagnosed with a disability, it reinforces the concept that people are not PERFECT. Perfect people do not exist. Horses sense our deficits and do not criticize our flaws. Horses accept us unconditionally and that is why horseback riding benefits all of us.
The combination of being around horses/stables and actually riding horses stimulates our senses:physically, psychologically, socially, spiritually, and educationally.
Physically, it improves appetite, digestion, respiration, circulation, fine/gross motor skills, sensory integration, joint range of motion, balance, coordination, proprioception, agility and decreases muscle spasticity.Manipulating the reins facilitates muscle groups in the upper extremities and fine tunes digits/hand control. It is clinically proven to decrease spasticity in the adductors of the lower extremities. The rhythmic motion of the horse increases spinal reflexes, especially the righting reflex, which is rarely used by wheel-chair bound persons. The program enhances proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, which maintains that motor activity into organized patterns of flexion-extension, abduction-adduction and rotations components. Movements of these patterns against minimal resistance will enhance fine/gross motor control in deficient muscles. When using proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, the resistance offered to muscular action should be proportionate intensity to the muscles involved in order to effectively condition bones, joints and musculature.
Psychologically, it increases self-confidence/esteem, patience, emotional control, and self-discipline. The ability to be independent in movement without relying on man-made transportation is priceless. Unconsciously, it unfolds a realization of our personal strengths and weaknesses. Learning who we are and where we need to grow is the goal of any healthy minded individual.
Socially, it enables the community to share a common interest, promotes teamwork, compassion toward one another and encourages us to be involved with human beings personal struggles. We are a community. Learning to help one another is a very important lesson for all of us to continue learning. We do not promote horse show competition. Obtaining a blue ribbon is not what riding horses in a social setting is really all about. It is a healthy connection, interacting with other people, to comprehend the intelligence, grace and beauty of the hoses that stands before us. We quest for knowledge with others to enjoy this common interest and we enjoy demonstrating our success amongst one another. We are not criticized for our failures, they are simply part of the process.
Spiritually, you develop an appreciation for nature, the animal you are gliding across the earth on and you connect with your inner most-being. The connection of the experience is reliant on the rider’s willingness to let go of any pre dispositional fears. Connecting with nature and the horse all at once broadens your horizons to the world that is constantly evolving around us. Stepping in line with tranquility, orderliness and respecting these magnificent creatures warms your soul.
Educationally, it improves sequencing, patterning, reading/mathematical comprehension, differentiation, visual-spatial perception, 1-2-3 step directions, linguistics, and logical formulation of concepts. This is to name just a few. Creating teachable moments in a climate of stability and well-being, produces personal insight, productivity and achievement. Everyone is teachable. Cognitively, it stimulates people to solve simple or complex issues with the gentle guidance of the instructor. For children, it encourages proper behavior to participate in the activity. This is sometimes modeled by the instructor and the results are displayed in the student. Communication by verbal or non-verbal means enables the riders to interact with one another. The horses are a tool that create the teachable moment.
Human beings at all stages of life are seeking knowledge to make themselves better. For example, an individual who is employed in a stressful environment probably needs to relieve their stress to improve psychological functioning. Just being around a horse, brushing a horse and walking on a horse allows peaceful interaction to occur in a human being naturally. It is a mentally relaxing sport. Another excellent example, is an individual who is suffering from paraplegia probably wishes they could walk. The animal functions as a surrogate cerebellum, providing the riders neuromuscular system with various inputs that closely mimic the rider’s legs and feet. It enables the rider to feel normal independence and human ambulation. Both of these individuals are fulfilling their immediate needs, unconsciously the benefit is truly when it affects the entire person (holistic). The horse experience will reveal the areas we need to improve, and if we are open to the entire equine experience, we can change our weaknesses into strengths.