There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man. -Winston Churchill
According to the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NAHRA): Therapeutic riding uses equine-assisted activities for the purpose of contributing positively to cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being of people with disabilities. Therapeutic riding provides benefits in the areas of therapy, education sport and recreational leisure. Throughout the world, there are thousands of individuals with special needs who experience the rewarding benefits of horseback riding.
Therapeutic riding is used to assist those with cognitive, physical and/or emotional conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy etc. Riding develops coordination, use of muscles, core strength, flexibility and balance in the rider. It also gives those who would not otherwise have the opportunity, the chance to get out of doors and participate in a stimulating activity.
Therapeutic riding is used to aid both children and adults with disabilities and has a positive effect on the physical and emotional well being of not only the rider, but of the dedicated professionals both paid and volunteer who assist in aiding the rider.
Horses are also used to help families and individuals with mental and emotional issues through Equine Assisted Therapy and Equine Assisted Learning. The Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) is a non profit organization dedicated to improving the mental health of families and individuals through equine therapy.
Often children and teens are reluctant to open up to others about their problems, this is where equine assisted therapy steps in. Horses are very sensitive creatures and will reflect the feelings and attitudes of those human around them. Many horses used in these programs are rescued animals learning to trust again, just as in the case of many teens having difficult emotional times in need of learning to trust and cope.
The Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), which is the international governing body for equine sports recognizes para driving and para dressage in its seven recognized disciplines giving physically handicapped riders the chance to compete on an international level.
No matter what the application, horses are proving themselves a very valuable asset in the therapy of those with physical, mental, emotional or developmental disabilities.
As Leslie Kollar points out in a blog, "Even as an able bodied rider, I can tell you that I have spent many hours over the years talking to my horses about my life. They don’t have anything to say; they just blink through large brown soulful eyes that say – just forget it for a while, let’s go for a ride."