Numerous studies have supported the therapeutic horseback riding as a treatment method that has shown immediate and long-term benefits for children with autism.
One such study undertaken by the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus revealed significant improvements in irritability, social skills, hyperactivity and word fluency among test participants in the research.
The study which involved several therapeutic riding programs to measure the effects of horse-assisted therapy have shown positive social and communication effects, as well as a lasting reduction on irritability among children with autism.
The test participants were 127 children with autism with ages ranging from 67 to 16 years old enrolled in a 10-week therapeutic horseback riding program.
The results of the study provided evidence that therapeutic horseback riding could be an intervention which can lead to long-term maintenance of benefits gained from equine-assisted psychotherapy.
How children with autism benefit from horse riding
One of the critical roles of horses in the therapeutic process is its ability to adhere to a regular routine, which is similar to behaviors found in children with autism. Horses prefer to stay in the same stall area, follow a common and regular route or path, and maintain the same habits.
Horses are also contented with guidance from non-verbal commands and are also amenable to verbal instruction. This is similar to autistic children and allows them to experience the power of communication in controlling a stronger force or bigger than themselves.
Social, emotional, and psychological benefits
There’s more to horseback riding therapy than just a “feel good” factor that links the horse and the rider. There has been scientific evidence measured in the study that pointed to the social, emotional, and psychological benefits linked to the interaction with animals, in this case, the horse.
According to Dr. Darren Logan, head of research at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, the study provided the positive indicator that animal-assisted therapy plays a key role in improving developmental outcomes for children, especially those diagnosed with autism.
Qualities that reflect human behavior
One of the major factors involved in therapeutic horseback riding is the inherent ability of horses to reflect human emotions. Horses can show the mirror-image of human action through its responses to human behavioral cues.
For instance, when confronted by an approaching person with large strides or in an aggressive manner, the horse reacts by resisting or moving away. It only calms down when the person tones down and changes his or her demeanor. The same goes with other human behaviors that can be determined by the horse’s instincts and responds to human action.
Therapeutic horseback riding may not be the sole treatment method for autism, but it does provide a lot of benefits to help improve the quality of life of children living with autism.
Creating the Emotional Bond
Kids with autism have a hard time building emotional bonding with others. Such kids often find it hard to express their feeling, communicate with, or even make eye contact. Given how crucial it is to have self-expression and communication skills, autistic children find it hard to lead a normal life. Through equine-therapy, autistic kids explore various other ways to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Since the therapy involves touching, hugging, stroking, and riding a horse, autistic kids experience physical communication skills. The therapy consists of taking care of the horse, thus teaching them how to build an emotional relationship with others. These sessions are effective in producing social and communication skills in autistic kids.
Cognitive and Language Skills Development
For an autistic child, comprehending and following directions is often hard. With the help of equine therapy, the child can learn how to follow directions, take instructions, and remember them through fun activities. Since the therapy involves kids commanding the horse, it offers the autistic child an opportunity to develop communication skills. The therapy is also effective in improving cognitive skills as well.
Horse riding is the best way to learn how to balance oneself. During horse riding, our vestibular sense organs get stimulated, resulting in an experience of balance and spatial orientation. The vestibular sense organs are present inside our ears and are triggered due to change in direction, speed, and incline. Equine therapy helps keep these senses alive and motivates the rider to continue the therapy.