The Benefits of
Therapeutic Horseback Riding
by: Elizabeth Clinton
Since the dawn of time, mankind has had an interesting relationship
with animals. In some ways, the history of modern man is intimately
linked to our interaction with animals. Dog's, for instance, have
long been considered man's best friend. Any dog owner will gladly
confirm this for you. Cat's, too, have been living in close quarters
with man for literally thousands of years.
In modern times, there has been a lot of research and
experimentation regarding the use of horses in various forms of
therapy. Back in the early 1900's, Dame Agnes Hunt used horses in
the rehabilitation of her patients at the first orthopedic hospital
in England. A few years later, therapeutic riding was introduced to
soldiers injured on the battlefield during World War I.
In the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, an amazing feat was
accomplished. Dame Liz Hartel, a former Danish dressage rider,
decided to compete in spite of being severely paralyzed by Polio.
She became an inspiration to millions of people, when she won the
Silver medal that year. Over time, doctors and therapists realized
that exposure to animals was having a rehabilitative effect on their
A number of organizations were established to reflect the interests
of this new form of therapy. In the early 1960's, the first
therapeutic riding program in Canada was established by Dr. Elmer
Butt. More recently, The Federation of Riding for the Disabled
International was created. This organization serves to coordinate
efforts between therapeutic riding centers all around the world, and
have they been instrumental in helping this form of therapy gain the
recognition it deserves.
Horseback riding is currently being used in many types of therapy.
It is being used to help children suffering from physical
disabilities, as in the case of Dame Liz Hartel. It is also gaining
mainstream acceptance as a form of therapy for children with
emotional or psychological disabilities. Children are naturally
drawn to these majestic and beautiful animals, and many develop
meaningful bonds that can last a lifetime.
In the case of children with Autism, riding can provide them with
the sensory stimulation they need. The motion of the horse is highly
rhythmic, and provides something for the child to focus on. As the
child progresses with the horse, they are often introduced to group
riding sessions. This allows for socialization and bonding in a peer
setting, further supporting the child's progress as a healthy,
Elizabeth Clinton has been riding horses since she
was a young girl. When she is not down at the stables, she writes
for horseandridergear.com – a wonderful online resource for
information about riding equipment, equestrian attire, specialized
footwear and more.
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