Equine Therapy for Disabled Kids

Imagine being trapped in a body that you have little control over. Perhaps you have difficulty walking or are even confined to a wheelchair, always looking up at others rather than meeting them eye-to-eye. Maybe you have Down syndrome and struggle with coordination, speech, or visual problems. Life with a disability can be frustrating and sometimes lonely.

Equine therapy, or therapeutic riding, offers those with disabilities an opportunity to gain a sense of control over their bodies. Perhaps for the first time in her life, the disabled child on horseback is elevated to a level where she is looking eye to eye with other people. She may move freely on top of a horse, commanding the animal to go where she wants to go.

Medically speaking, the horse’s body and motion can stretch and relax the muscles, and riding can also help the child to gain muscle tone and body strength and improve posture. Although not generally a focus of therapeutic riding, when muscle tone and strength are improved, there is often a resulting improvement in respiration and even speech.

Equine therapy, like other forms of animal therapy, has emotional benefits, too. A child’s connection with an animal and an opportunity to gain horsemanship skills gives a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence.

Like all forms of animal therapy, equine therapy should have clear goals for the disabled child, set and facilitated by a licensed professional, such as a physical or occupational therapist. Goals should periodically be re-evaluated to ensure that the child is making progress.