Here are some benefits of riding which we hope you will find interesting.
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 horse first.
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. The horse also
provides the rider with the ability to go places otherwise inaccessible due to the disability.
There is no doubt about it, riding a horse is fun. Riders experience excitement and pleasure every time they come
for a lesson.
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. 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.
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 pre-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.
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.
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 improved proprioception.
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.
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.
Addition and subtraction are taught through games involving throwing numbered foam dice and adding or subtracting
the numbers. Because the concepts are taught through games, resistance to learning is decreased.
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 and activities.
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.
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.
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.
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