As the horse moves, the rider is constantly thrown off-balance, requiring that the rider’s muscles contract and relax in an attempt to rebalance the body. This exercise reaches deep muscles not assessable in conventional physical therapy.
The three-dimensional rhythmical movement of the horse is similar to the motion of walking, teaching rhythmical patterns to the muscles of the legs and trunk. Stopping and starting the horse, changing speed and changing direction add to the workout. Even though riding is exercise, it is perceived as enjoyment, and therefore the rider has increased tolerance and motivation to lengthen the period and frequency of exercise.
Repetition of patterned movements required in controlling a horse quickens the reflexes and aids in motor planning.
Riding a horse requires stretching multiple muscle groups. Spasticity is reduced by the rhythmic motion of the horse. Sitting astride a horse helps to reduce extensor spasms of the lower limbs.
Riding stimulates the tactile senses through touch and environmental stimuli. The vestibular system is also stimulated by the movement of the horse, and by changes in direction and speed.
Exercise in the fresh air, away from hospitals, doctors offices, therapy rooms, or home helps to promote a sense of well-being.
The ability to control an animal much larger and stronger than oneself is a great confidence builder.
How Therapeutic Riding Works
Improved coordination and normalized muscle tone
Relaxation of spastic muscles/facilitation of flaccid muscles
Improved posture, sitting and standing balance
Improved gross and fine motor skills
Increased functional range of motion and muscular strength
Improved perceptual motor/sensory motor integration
Improved cardiovascular function and stamina
Increased vocabulary – application and recall
Improved attention and concentration
Improved sequencing and planning skills
Improved judgment and critical thinking skills
Improved flexibility in thinking
Increased verbal integration and participation
Increased visual and auditory discrimination
Increased self-confidence, self esteem and self-control
Mastery of a difficult task
Improved positive social interactions and teamwork
Increased ability to appropriately solicit help and act independently