Why Your Autistic Child Needs Horseback Riding
Ever ride a horse before? Or have you ever looked into the eyes of a horse? They are pretty amazing creatures. Horses are beautiful, graceful and majestic, and there are a few reasons why your autistic child needs horseback riding in her life. Almost 50 children are diagnosed with autism every day and the number is growing, as are the number and types of available therapies to help these children. Horseback riding, though, has been used for therapeutic purposes since the times of the ancient Greeks.
Therapeutic horseback riding, or equine therapy, is used for physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral and social skill for kids from about the age of ten and up, depending on the riding instructor. The child is often taught how to ride and also to have a relationship with the horse. The slow, rhythmic motion of the horse mimics, in some ways the human movements of walking and riding promotes strength, balance, coordination, independence and most importantly, confidence.
The child doesn’t have to ride the horse to obtain benefits, though. Brushing, bathing and feeding the horse can have a relaxing effect as well.
Autistic Children and Horseback Riding
Autistic kids tend to hyper-focus on few areas of interest, tend to be clumsy and have repetitive speech patterns. Medications are generally used to control hyperactivity or seizures, while behavior modification is used for other symptoms.
These children also tend to have issues communicating, external stimuli and with motor development. There is also a natural reward system when working with horses. Children with poor communication skills need to use them to command the horse. Children tend to bond easily with the horses as well as with the instructors.
Tactile senses are also utilized, feeling the horses soft coat, rough mane, and soft nose. Motor skills improve as the child learns to ride, groom and tack the horse. Equine therapy makes learning fun for the child.
Horses are also very responsive to everyone around and will often show profound love for the child he’s working with. Group sessions give the child the opportunity to work with other children and other counselors and even help others. Wouldn’t it be cool to watch your autistic child helping another who is new to this therapy? Children who have been known to be “explosive” generally smile more, stay calmer and are more in control.
Horses can be really playful, as well, drawing children out of their shells. Kids who tend to isolate themselves often find themselves being more open and really loving this experience. Eye contact is first made with the horse and then, slowly, with other people. Generally, more research is in order, but animal therapy is pretty beneficial.
- Mounting and dismounting the horse
- Sitting on the horse using proper posture
- Riding forward, backward and sideways
- Extending arms overhead and to the side
- Standing up in the stirrups
And much, much more, the more advanced the child gets.
Who Else Can Benefit
Equine therapy has been shown to help kids (and adults!) with
- Cognitive defects
- Eating disorders
- Down’s syndrome
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Muscular dystrophy
- Cerebral palsy
- Learning disabilities
- Behavioral or Emotional problems
How To Find Equine Therapy Near You
Path International – The Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) promotes safety and optimal outcomes in equine-assisted activities and therapies for individuals with special needs
Riding for the Disabled Association (based in the UK) – At RDA our horses and ponies provide therapy and fun to people with disabilities all over the UK.
AHA Hippotherapy – American Hippotherapy Association
Autism Speaks provides an extensive list of equine therapy opportunities.
Here are some other resources for parents of children who are on the autism spectrum:
Anxiety and Autism Spectrum Disorders
The Moment I Got My Son with Autism’s Need for Routine
The Well Travel Guide for Parents of Autism Spectrum Children
Nutrition for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism