Therapeutic Horseback Riding
for Kids with autism
Therapeutic horseback riding for kids with autism has proven
to be beneficial in helping those kids expand their skills. There are many activities that benefit kids with autism, but therapeutic horseback riding is growing in popularity not only for the
fun it offers, but also for the therapeutic benefits it provides. Kids who have autism or Asperger disorder are able to improve their communication skills as well as their gross motor skills, which makes horseback
riding one of the most beneficial activities for kids struggling with autism.
Children learn to bond with their horses and care for them,
giving each child the ability to create a relationship with one of these magnificent creatures. In some cases, nonverbal kids
have started to talk to their horses, while kids with sensitivities to touching and being touched have shown physical affection
towards horses in the form of hugs and kisses. Children learn to care for the horses; creating an emotional connection that
many parents don’t even realize is possible. Over time, feelings of empathy are fostered, which is something that many
experts previously thought that kids with autism were not capable of learning.
Beyond the emotional
bonds, horseback riding offers cognitive benefits. Children learn to groom their horses, creating the opportunity for growth
when it comes to following instructions, recognizing colors and shapes, and learning new vocabulary words. While these lessons
can be tried in a classroom setting, this unique setting is less intimidating, allowing for improved results. There are even
some activities that can be done while on horseback, like throwing colored balls into baskets during a ride. Integrating classroom-style
activities combined with the calming effect of the animals can have a profound impact on an autistic child’s ability
to learn new things.
While kids with autism do not initially enjoy change in their routines, any hand flapping or meltdowns that start at the
beginning of the first therapy session quickly fade away as they are introduced to their horses. Horseback riding engages
the senses in a way that is not overwhelming, which is critical for autistic kids. The touch of the horse’s coat, the
sounds of the horse in the stall, and the feel of riding, all create a calming sensory retreat that allows kids to be more
open to learning and communicating in different ways.
Impact in the Classroom
A recent study at William and Mary College showed that the benefits of this fun
activity are being seen in classrooms, with teachers noticing better sensory reactions and increased cognitive skills. Improved
social interaction and interest in learning were also noted in kids with autism who use horseback riding as a therapeutic
While there is no known cure for autism, activities like therapeutic horseback riding are providing
remarkable results for kids of all ability levels, whether they have autism or Asperger disorder. With increased emotional response, cognitive ability, and sensory integration,
horses provide an outlet for learning and expression that cannot be taught in a traditional classroom. Kids who learn how
to care for and ride a horse learn new communication and coping skills while enjoying all of the fun that comes with being
around these great animals.
HorsePlay at Nichols Field Riding Club in
Kerhonkson, NY provides a broad range of opportunities for equine assisted activities in a quiet, safe environment: early
exposure, learning, riding and therapies for both individuals, groups and families. We work year-round with licensed Behavior
Analysts to design activities and programs to meet our clients’ specific needs and goals. Spectrum families and caregivers,
as well as ABAs, case-workers and others are invited to contact us to discuss how HorsePlay can be introduced into an autistic
child’s world. Please call Cori Nichols, director, at (845) 616-3608 or email: Cori.Nichols@aol.com. You’ll find HorsePlay on Facebook and on the web.
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