History of Therapeutic Riding / Equine Assisted Activities
It is not clear when riding for disabled people became a specialized field, but history records people
with disabilities riding horses as early as the days of the ancient Greeks. Orbasis of ancient Lydia
documented the therapeutic value of riding in 600 B.C. Even then, it was acknowledged that riding
was more than a means of transportation; it was also a way of improving the health and well-being
of people with handicaps.
The first study of the value of riding as therapy was reported in 1875. French physician Cassaign
used riding as a treatment for a variety of conditions, and concluded that it was helpful in the
treatment of certain kinds of neurological disorders by improving posture, balance and joint
movement, as well as psychological improvements.
At the turn of the century, England recognized riding for the disabled as a beneficial form of therapy
and offered riding therapy for wounded soldiers at the Oxford Hospital during World War I. By the
1950's, British physiotherapists were exploring the possibilities of riding as therapy for all types of
handicaps. The British Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) was founded in 1969 with the
enthusiastic support of the Royal Family.
Riding therapy was introduced in Scandinavia in 1946 after two devastating outbreaks of
poliomyelitis. Lis Hartel, an accomplished horsewoman, was stricken with the disease. Although
surgery and physiotherapy helped her to walk again with the aid of crutches, she was determined to
ride independently again and began daily supervised riding sessions to improve her muscle
strength and coordination. Liz Hartel brought attention to riding for the disabled when she won the
silver medal for Dressage at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. She and Ulla Harpoth, a physical
therapist from Copenhagen, went on to use horses as therapy for their patients.
Therapeutic Horseback Riding came to both the United States and Canada in 1960, with the
formation of the Community Association of Riding of the Disabled.
In the United States, riding for disabled persons developed as a form of recreation and as a means
of motivation for education, as well as for its therapeutic benefits. In 1969 the Cheff Center for the
Handicapped was established in Michigan, and remains the oldest center specifically for people with
disabilities in the United States. The North American Riding for the Handicapped Association
(NARHA) was founded in 1969 to serve as an advisory body to the various riding for the disabled
groups across the United States and its neighboring countries. NARHA provides safety guidelines
and training, certifies therapeutic riding instructors, accredits therapeutic riding centers according
to its own high standards, disseminates information, and offers low-cost insurance to its member
Today, riders with disablities demonstrate their remarkable accomplishments in national and
international sport riding competitions. Hippotherapy (physical therapy on horseback, using the
horse as the therapist) has developed as a medical field recognized by most major countries.
Equine Facilitated Mental Health, Equine Experiential Learning and other forms of therapy involving
horses are gaining in popularity. Medical doctors, psychiatrists, physical and occupational
therapists, speech therapists, and teachers all refer patients and students to riding programs for
the disabled. Riding for the disabled has become a well recognized and acclaimed method of
improving the lives of those who refuse to let their disabilities limit them.
Stable Life, Inc.
"There is something about the outside of a horse that is
good for the inside of a man.
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