Why horses?

Horses and children, I often think,
have a lot of the good sense there is in the world.

~Josephine Demott Robinson


greek_horseHorses have been used in a therapeutic process since ancient Greece.The Greeks,namely Hippocrates, used horses to help those suffering from incurable diseases. Hippos is the Greek word for Horse; hence hippotherapy refers to treatment or therapy aided by a horse.

Roughly 2000 years after Hippocrates, benefits from therapeutic riding began appearing in literature during the 17th century, when it was prescribed for conditions such as neurological disorders, gout, and poor morale.

hartelThe Chronicle of the Horse, a magazine dedicated specifically to horse articles, suggests that the creation of therapeutic riding facilities is due to Lis Hartel of Denmark (photo right). Hartel suffered from Polio and used her horse as a therapy tool. The disease affected control of her hands and arms, and paralyzed her below the knees. Hartel was advised to stop riding, yet she continued for three years. Shortly after, Hartel went on to win two Olympic medals in Grand Pre Dressage and would become a Danish Dressage Champion seven times. After winning the Olympics, Hartel and her therapist founded Europe’s first therapeutic riding Center.

The achievements of Hartel caught the attention of medical and equine professional’s immediately and centers for therapeutic riding rapidly sprang up in Europe. By the late 1960’s, Equine-Assisted Therapy was accepted by the America Medical Association as an “invaluable therapeutic tool.”

LowRes edit for WB-ROCKRide-56As early as 1969, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) recognized the physically therapeutic impact of riding for those with physical disabilities. With promising results, the interest in this approach grew, and NARHA soon expanded to it present size of more than 800 member centers, over 3,500 certified instructors and 6,500 members.

The benefit horses can offer was soon realized to extend beyond the physical realm, and a number of organizations offering both psychotherapy and learning partnering with horses began to emerge.

The benefits gained vary from person to person and depend on numerous factors including the type and severity of the condition, the individual’s motivation and the connection between the person and the horse.

Development and Outcomes

Pairing horses with children and adults who have physical, mental or emotional disorders has been shown to produce remarkable results.

  • Children with autism and attention deficit disorders often have difficulty in communicating and interacting with others but frequently will achieve the desired results when they have the opportunity to be in a therapeutic environment with the horse.
  • Veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress are often able to regain their ability to function at a more effective level after working with the horse.
  • Individuals with mobility challenges are frequently able to build up their core strength in ways that traditional physical therapy was not able to provide. The movement of the horse simulates walking and stimulates muscle systems in a unique way that only the horse can provide.
  • Individuals experiencing aggressive and/or anti-social behaviors become calmer and appropriately responsive to those around them.
  • Children (and many adults) who could not walk – walk; children who could not talk – talk. It is often this simple.

_dsc5222Research studies have shown that just being around horses can change our brainwave patterns. There is a calming effect that comes from being with the horse resulting in a positive experience.  According to Franklin Levinson, internationally known Horseman and the creator of the Beyond Natural Horsemanship Program, “Horses react as a mirror to the person who’s with him. He’s a prey animal so he wants to feel safe and is always on the lookout for predators. A horse will become very fearful if he’s with someone who’s aggressive, noisy, disrespectful or too controlling. On the other hand, if the person makes requests rather than demands the horse will begin to cooperate. He is always looking for a leader.

It is natural for us to want to please the horse and thus, the horse motivates us to be fully in the present, to put aside emotions such as anger or frustration, to speak and physically respond to the horse in a way that is calming and acceptable to the horse. The horse helps us to draw on the self-healing potential that is within each of us.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Horses provide a unique neuromuscular stimulation when being ridden through their one of a kind movement. Horses move in a rhythmic motion that mimics the human movement of walking. While riding, the horses stride acts to move the rider’s pelvis in the same rotation and side-to-side movement that occurs when walking. The horses adjustable gait promotes riders to constantly adjust the speed to achieve the desired pelvic motion while promoting strength, balance, coordination, flexibility and confidence. One does not have to ride to achieve the desired effects of therapy. Horses can act as an aid by giving those with disabilities a companion to care for. Grooming such as brushing, bathing, and currying aid in joint range of motion and have a relaxing and calming effect.

The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) accredits centers providing a variety of beneficial services to people with disabilities. The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) focuses more on the mental-health aspects of human-equine interaction, and provides certification for mental-health and equine professionals.

PATH divides these services into two general categories – “Equine-Assisted Activity” and “Equine-Assisted Therapy”. Equine- assisted activities are those services provided by a trained professional and focus on recreation, leisure, sport or education. Examples of equine-assisted activities are therapeutic horseback riding, carriage driving, vaulting and equine-facilitated learning. These activities are based on an educational model; skills are taught to riders, vaulters and students. The professional guiding the experience is a specially-trained, PATH-certified instructor. The professionals’ training provides them with expertise in specialized, adaptive teaching methods which allow people with a variety of disabilities to learn horsemanship skills and experience the equine environment.