August 10, 2022

Winston Churchill once said, “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” 

If you’ve spent time around horses, you probably agree with Mr. Churchill. But did you know that horses can have benefits beyond recreation for individuals with disabilities? 

What Is Therapeutic Riding? 

Therapeutic riding and horsemanship offer positive contributions to an individual’s cognitive, physical, emotional, and social well-being through riding lessons. Horses have natural therapeutic benefits that make a positive difference and help riders achieve their goals. 

Participants don’t necessarily have to be in the saddle, either! Learning horsemanship skills on the ground are just as valuable as mounted activities. Therapeutic riding is inclusive — there are opportunities for everyone! 

Child on chestnut pony waving to the camera with side-walker

Here are a few answers to questions you might have about therapeutic riding and our approach at Healing Strides of Virginia

1. What are the benefits of Therapeutic Riding? 

Participants improve both physical and emotional skills, ranging from balance and coordination, flexibility, and muscle strength to emotional regulation and empowerment, confidence and understanding of self, respect and boundaries, responsibility and accountability. 

2. What are lessons like? 

A lesson at Healing Strides is tailored to suit each individual participant! The majority of our lessons here are group lessons, which provide a longer time with the horse, social interactions with other students, and opportunities to learn from watching others. Our lessons are grouped by riding skill level and are completely inclusive. 

3. Is Therapeutic Riding the same thing as Hippotherapy? 

These two are commonly mixed up, but therapeutic riding and hippotherapy are actually very different! Hippotherapy refers to physical, occupational, or speech therapy conducted by the appropriately licensed professional using “evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement as a therapy tool to engage sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems to promote functional outcomes.” 

The goals of being on a horse in Hippotherapy are based on an individual’s clinical objectives determined by their therapist and/or medical team, whereas the goals of being on a horse in therapeutic riding are based on learning how to ride a horse (even though there are many therapeutic benefits to doing so).

4. How do instructors approach Therapeutic Riding? 

While therapeutic riding instructors have special certifications in safety standards and adaptive teaching of individuals with disabilities, the goal is always to promote as independent of a relationship as possible between horse and human. This requires an emphasis on communication, trust, and creativity during the lessons. No two participants have the same goals, so ensuring that the instructor understands the physical, cognitive, and emotional needs of each student to promote confidence, safety, and a deeper connection to the horse. 

Each student’s progression will be unique to them and progression is not linear. An instructor celebrates all successes, no matter how big or small, and remains positive and encouraging during times when the student feels like they are struggling. There is just as much learning and growth (if not more) during those challenging times than on the days when everything comes together.  

5. What is the goal of Therapeutic Riding? 

Each participant may have different goals, both in their horsemanship lessons and in life.  Some want to enjoy their time with horses and learn at their own pace.  Others may want to work toward showing or competing with a horse. Either way, these goals are discussed at the first ride, as well as throughout their time at Healing Strides. Instructors also set goals for their students, though so much can depend on the individual in terms of how “quickly” a skill is mastered. Progression in horsemanship is not linear, there is always something new to learn. 

A paradressage rider riding a dark bay horse in an outdoor arena

Healing Strides is a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization providing Equine Assisted Services to individuals with personal challenges, partnering humans with equines to create powerful and lasting change in the lives of individuals throughout our community. Therapeutic horsemanship is one of the avenues for this change to occur, allowing the partnership to take center stage! Along with the horsemanship goals of each participant, the goals each has in their life and in the relationship with their horse influence the path they choose to take.  

We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the horses that make it all possible. Care and comfort of our horses is of the utmost importance as we would not be able to do what we do without them. Equine Assisted Services, including therapeutic horsemanship, should be beneficial to both humans and horses, based on a foundation of mutual respect and kindness. 

Interested in learning more? Call us at (540) 334-5825 or email to see if you are eligible for therapeutic riding at Healing Strides! 

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