HORSEBACK RIDING BENEFITS
The benefits of horseback riding are numerous! Here are some horseback riding benefits 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 is 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 saddling 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 horses also provides the rider with the ability to go places otherwise inaccessible due to certain disabilities.
There is no doubt about it, riding a horse is fun. Riders experience excitement and pleasure every time they attend a riding 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 riding offers.
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, saddling, grooming and exercises during the lesson.
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, riding benefits from trotting and cantering are shown to increase both respiration and circulation.
Improved appetite and digestion
Like all forms of exercise, riding benefits by stimulating the appetite. The digestive tract is also stimulated, increasing the efficiency of digestion.
Riding benefits by stimulating 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 an “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 through 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 saddling and bridling 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 spacial 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 leans to differentiate significant from less significant stimuli in the environment. An improvement in this area occurs as the rider leans to attend to his horse and those things that may influence the horse as opposed to attending the environment in general.