Benefits of Equine Assisted Activities (EAA)
Horseback riding for people with disabilities is recognized as one of the
more progressive forms of therapy. The ability to control a horse as well as
one's own body inspires self-confidence, responsibility and teamwork. Best
of all, it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, which creates a special
relationship between rider and horse and promotes personal challenges.
- From the beginning, riders learn balance, coordination and self-
assurance while receiving therapeutic muscle stimulation.
- As a result of carefully planned lessons, poise posture, strength and
- A strong sense of responsibility develops as the rider learns to take
part in the care of the horses and equipment.
- Advanced equestrian skills, teamwork and cooperation are learned
as the rider becomes independent on horseback.
- Classes, horse shows and events encourage confidence, self-
esteem and a sense of accomplishment as new levels of expertise
and new goals are met.
Improved balance: As the horse moves, the rider is constantly thrown off-balance, requiring that the rider's muscles contract
and relax in an attempt to re-balance. This exercise reaches deep muscles not accessible 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. By placing the rider in different positions on the horse (therapeutic vaulting), we can work
different sets of muscles. Stopping and starting the horse, changing speed and changing direction increase the benefits.
Strengthened muscles: Muscles are strengthened by the increased use involved in riding. Even though riding is exercise, it is
perceived as enjoyment, and therefore the rider has increased tolerance and motivation to lengthen the period of exercise.
Improved coordination, faster reflexes, and better motor planning: Riding a horse requires a great deal of coordination in
order to get the desired response from the horse. Since the horse provides instant feedback to every action by the rider, it is
easy to know when you have given the correct cue. Repetition of patterned movements required in controlling a horse quickens
the reflexes and aids in motor planning.
Stretching of tight or spastic muscles: Sitting on a horse requires stretching of the adductor muscles of the thighs. This is
accomplished by stretching prior to mounting the horse, and starting the rider off on a narrow horse, gradually working to wider
and wider horses. Gravity helps to stretch the muscles in front of the leg as the rider sits on the horse without stirrups. Riding
with stirrups with heels level or down helps to stretch the heel cords and calf muscles. Stomach and back muscles are stretched
as the rider is encouraged to maintain an upright posture against the movement of the horse. Arm and hand muscles are
stretched as part of routine exercises on the horse and by the act of holding and using the reins.
Decreased spasticity: Spasticity is reduced by the rhythmic motion of the horse. The warmth of the horse may aid in
relaxation, especially of the legs. Sitting astride a horse helps to break up extensor spasms of the lower limbs. Holding the reins
helps to break flexor spasm patterns of the upper limbs. Many of the developmental vaulting positions are also designed to
break up or reduce spasticity. Fatigue also helps to decrease spasticity by producing relaxation.
Increased range of motion of the joints: As spasticity is reduced, range of motion increases. Range of motion is also
improved by the act of mounting and dismounting, tacking up, grooming, and exercises during lessons.
Reduction of abnormal movement patterns: If spasticity is reduced and range of motion increased, it follows that abnormal
movements will be inhibited. Relaxation techniques while riding also help to inhibit abnormal movement.
Improved respiration and circulation: Although riding is not normally considered a cardiovascular exercise, trotting and
cantering do increase both respiration and circulation.
Improved appetite and digestion: Like all forms of exercise, riding stimulates the appetite. The digestive tract is also
stimulated, increasing the efficiency of digestion.
Sensory integration: Riding stimulates the tactile senses both through touch and environmental stimuli. The vestibular system
is also stimulated by the movement of the horse, changes in direction and speed. The olfactory system responds to the many
smells involved in a stable and ranch environment. Vision is used in control of the horse. The many sounds of a ranch help to
involve the auditory system. All of these senses work together and are integrated in the act of riding. In addition,
proprioceptors (receptors that give information from our muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints) are activated, resulting in
General sense of well-being: Exercise in the fresh air of a ranch, away from hospitals, doctors office, therapy rooms, or
home help to promote a sense of well-being.
Improved self-confidence: Confidence is gained by mastering a skill normally performed by able-bodied people. The ability
to control an animal much larger and stronger than oneself is a great confidence builder. Participating in events such as
shows and play days add to the sense of achievement.
Increased interest in the outside world: For those confined by a disability, the world tends to shrink in size. Riding
increases interest in what is happening around the rider, as the rider explores the world from the back of a horse. Even
exercising becomes interesting when done on horseback.
Increased interest in one's own life: The excitement of riding and the experiences involved stimulate the rider, encouraging
the rider to speak and communicate about it.
Improved risk-taking abilities: Riding is a risk sport. The rider learns to master fears though the act of staying on the horse,
as well as attempting new skills and positions on the horse.
Development of patience: Since the horse has a mind of it's own, the rider learns patience as he or she attempts to perform
skills on the horse when the horse is not cooperating. Repetition of basic riding principles also helps to develop patience.
Emotional control and self-discipline: The rider quickly learns that an out-of-control rider means an out-of-control horse.
Shouting, crying, and emotional outbursts upset the horse, which in turn frightens the rider. Riders learn to control these
emotions and appropriately express them.
Sense of normality: By being able to master a skill considered difficult by the able population, the rider experiences
him/herself as being normal.
Expansion of the locus of control: The rider begins to view him/herself as having control over his/her world as control over a
powerful animal increases.
Friendship: Although riding can be a solitary activity, it is normally performed in groups. Riders share a common love of
horses and a common experience of riding -- a good foundation on which to build a friendship.
Development of respect and love for animals: Horses require a great deal of care and attention. Riders find themselves
bonding with the animals. They develop an interest in them and learn to care for them. They learn to put the needs of the
Increased experiences: The variety of experiences involved in riding are endless. From tacking and grooming to trail riding,
from going to horse shows to learning the parts of a horse, the rider is constantly experiencing and growing.
Enjoyment: There is no doubt about it, riding a horse is fun. Riders experience excitement and pleasure every time they
come for a lesson.
Remedial Reading: Before one can read, it is necessary to recognize the difference in shapes, sizes, and even colors.
These can be taught more easily on horseback, as part of games and activities. There is less resistance to learning when it is
part of a riding lesson. Through the use of signs placed around the arena, letters can be taught, and reading of individual
words by word recognition can also be learned. Games involving signs for "exit", "danger", "stop" etc., help to teach important
life skills involving reading.
Remedial Math: Counting is learned by counting the horse's footsteps, objects around the arena, or even the horse's ears
and legs. Number concepts are gained as the rider compares the number of legs on a horse to the number of his own legs.
Sequencing, patterning and motor planning: Something as simple as holding and using a pencil requires a great deal of
motor planning. Knowing which comes first in a sequence of events is an important part of most activities. These and other
similar skills are taught on horseback though the use of obstacle courses, pole bending, drill team, and many other games
Improved eye-hand coordination: Eye hand coordination is necessary for such skills as writing. These skills are taught in
tacking the horse, as well as various activities and exercises.
Visual/spatial perception: This includes our awareness of form and space, and our understanding relationships between
forms in our environment. Included in this area are directionality (knowing right from left); space perception, which allows us to
differentiate between items close in shape but spatially different (i.e. "h" versus "b"); form perception (i.e. differentiating "h"
and "m"); figure ground (picking out an object from the background); and visual sequential memory (such as remembering
symbols in a particular sequence or pattern). Both reading and math concepts involve visual spatial perception. Visual spatial
perception improves as a natural result of control of the horse. Additional exercises are done on the horse to increase ability
in this area.
Differentiation: The rider learns to differentiate significant from less significant stimuli in the environment. An improvement
in this area occurs as the rider learns to attend to his horse and those things that may influence the horse as opposed to
attending the environment in general.
Stable Life, Inc.
"There is no secret so close as that between a
rider and his horse."
Robert Smith Surtees
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