The concept of Therapeutic Horsemanship began over 50 years ago in Europe as therapists realized that the gait of horses gently and rhythmically moved the riderâ€™s body in a manner similar to a human gait. After riding lessons persons with physical disabilities showed improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength. For individuals with mental or emotional disabilities, the unique relationship formed with the horse can lead to increased confidence, patience and self-esteem. All these benefits are achieved while the rider is having fun!
The benefits of horseback riding are as numerous as the types of disabilities and conditions served. Research shows that students who participate in therapeutic riding can experience physical, emotional and mental rewards. Because horseback riding gently and rhythmically moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a human gait, riders with physical disabilities often show improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength.
For individuals with mental or emotional disabilities, the unique relationship formed with the horse can lead to increased confidence, patience and self-esteem. The sense of independence found on horseback benefits all who ride. The therapeutic qualities of horseback riding are recognized by many medical professionals, including the American Physical Therapy Association and the American Occupational Therapy Association.
History of Therapeutic Riding
References to the physical and emotional benefits of horseback riding date back to writings in the 1600s. However, when Liz Hartel of Denmark won the silver medal for dressage at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games — despite having paralysis from polio — medical and equine professionals took active notice. It wasn’t long before therapeutic riding was being used for rehabilitation in England and then in North America. The first centers for therapeutic riding in North America began operation in the 1960s. NARHA, formed in 1969, consisted of four member centers and 60 individual members during its founding year. NARHA is now the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.)! Today, they serve more than 29,000 volunteers, 1,900 instructors, 5,800 therapy horses and thousands of contributors from all over the world.