Humans and horses have shared a special bond for thousands of years. This connection has been utilized in agriculture, sports and recreation, war, and, nowadays, as a medium for therapy. Learning to ride and spending time with horses is exciting and enjoyable for anyone. Yet for people with physical or emotional challenges, it is more than just fun: It is an opportunity to focus on what they can do, not what they can’t. It is a testament to the fact that individuals at every level of ability have the potential to do something incredible.
What are Equine Assisted Activities and Therapy?
Equine Assisted Activities and Therapy (EAAT) is an evidence-based and destigmatized therapy that significantly improves mental health and contributes to physical rehabilitation. EAAT offers opportunities for riders with a variety of challenges to experience responsibility, independence, self-regulation, and task completion, which in turn improve self-management, communication skills, self-esteem, and self-awareness. Additionally, practitioners, trainers, and riders of EAAT acquire horsemanship skills that improve the development and maintenance of strong, positive relationships. EAAT also contributes to rehabilitative physical goals such as improving posture, muscle coordination and movement, sensory function, and more.
THERAPEUTIC RIDING uses horses to enhance the physical, emotional, social, cognitive, and behavioral measures of people who have disabilities or psychological challenges. Therapeutic riding focuses on both riding skills and the development of a meaningful relationship between horse and rider as part of the rehabilitative process. Horses are responsive and social creatures. They pick up on human emotions and respond in turn, figuratively holding up a mirror to the humans they interact with. Developing a relationship with a horse involves patience, emotional awareness, trust, and non-verbal communication skills, and can lead to meaningful improvements in one’s well-being.
HIPPOTHERAPY is a therapy tool used by physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech/language pathologists to address impairments, functional limitations, and disabilities in clients with neuromotor and sensory dysfunction. In the controlled hippotherapy environment, the practitioner modifies the horse's movement and carefully grades sensory input, establishing a foundation for improved neurological function and sensory processing. Hippotherapy also consists of aerobic activity, stimulating in clients a strong sense of mobility, power, and control. In this therapy, riding skills are not taught (as they are in therapeutic riding), but rather a foundation is established to improve neurological function and sensory processing. This foundation is then generalized to a wide range of daily activities.
"After riding I feel different, my whole sense of self has changed and even my walk is not the same. My back is straighter. I feel lighter and have more energy… it seems like I have become another person."
In addition to the techniques above, EAAT includes:
CARRIAGE-DRIVING: Driving from a carriage seat or from a wheelchair in a modified carriage. Carriage driving provides an alternative to classic riding, opening up EAAT to those who may be unable to ride due to issues with coordination, muscle control, allergies, asthma, or phobias.
DRESSAGE: A horse-rider performance of a memorized and rehearsed routine of movements. The goals of dressage are to improve posture, balance, coordination, communication, concentration, self-awareness, organization, and control.
WESTERN RIDING: A unique style of riding originating in the USA and originally used by working horsemen (cowboys!) who would spend hours in the saddle locating, roping and branding cattle.
GROUNDWORK: Tasks relating to caring for a horse, developing the human-horse bond, and exercises for the horse while participants stay on the ground such as leading the horse or using halters.