Riding for the handicapped
began in Scandinavia after Lis Hartel, also spelt Liz, of Denmark won a silver medal for dressage in the 1952 Olympic
games despite being handicapped by polio. Hartel’s experience inspired a Norwegian therapist; Elsbet
Bodtker, to establish a riding group for children with disabilities. Therapeutic riding centers were first
established in the 1960’s in both the United States and Canada with the formation of the NARHA in 1969. Such
programs now exist throughout the world.
There are many benefits to therapeutic
riding. The physical benefits include increased mobility, improved balance, improved posture and core strength,
improved circulation & respiration, improved appetite & digestion, as well as improved coordination and flexibility.
Horseback riding gently and rhythmically moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a natural human gait.
The rider must continually balance, re-position, contract and relax muscles while the horse is in motion and it is
these voluntary and involuntary actions that benefit the rider physically. With therapeutic riding; an
individual learning to walk can experience three dimensional movement of ambulation. This experience is
hard to duplicate in the clinical setting. As strength, coordination, balance and posture
improve; the rider can begin to experience faster gaits or more complex movements resulting in additional physical benefits
due to increased aerobic and anaerobic fitness.
lend us the wings we lack." Author Unknown
The psychological benefits include improved self confidence & esteem, improved concentration
and focus, improved communication skills, development of patience, a sense of self accomplishment, self motivation, and an
opportunity to build special and unique human and animal friendships. For many people, mounting a horse
for the first time can be a frightening experience … now imagine if you were a disabled person. It
is through a unique bond between horse and rider that the seed of trust is planted, nurtured, and grown and it is this trust
that allows the rider to experience the psychological benefits mentioned above.
"In the steady gaze of the
horse shines a silent eloquence that speaks of love and loyalty, strength and courage. It is the window that reveals
to us how willing is his spirit, how generous his heart." Author Unknown
Therapeutic riding also provides opportunity
for the disabled to build friendships with other people, to learn respect, to be part of team, to belong to a group, to compete
and be recognized and to learn teamwork. Social interaction, social acceptance, increased life experiences,
and friendships are just a few of the social benefits.
"Horses change lives. They give our young people confidence and self-esteem.
They provide peace and tranquility to troubled souls. They give us hope!" Toni Robinson
Problem solving, improved eye-hand
coordination, patterning, sequencing, visual spatial perception, and differentiation are just a few of the cognitive benefits
associated with therapeutic riding. Riding stimulates the tactile senses both through touch and environmental
of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle." Winston Churchill