Most people who take horseback riding lessons are doing so because they simply love horses. Some have a serious plan to become a professional, while others are more interested in simply enjoying it as a hobby. Of course, there are some who just want to stop by for an afternoon to enjoy some trail riding in the Lake Worth area.
But did you know that horseback riding is more than just fun? For some, it’s fun and therapeutic. Horseback riding has become a popular means of helping children and adults with disabilities get more out of their lives, and this has come to be known as therapeutic horseback riding. All across the country, disabled people are taking advantage of therapeutic riding. Depending on the rider, riding can have both physical and psychological benefits. This week we’re going to take a look at how horseback riding can deliver physical benefits to riders with disabilities.
For those who might be in a wheelchair for most of the day or have trouble with their legs in some way, riding a horse gives them an excellent opportunity to stretch. The stretching begins on the ground with pre-riding exercises. Riders are started on slimmer horses and them move up to wider ones, which helps to stretch the adductor muscles of the thighs. The weight of the feet and shoes can cause gravity to stretch the calf muscles out as well.
Riders are always encouraged to sit up as straight as possible on a horse, which helps to stretch the back and stomach muscles. While not every rider will be able to do so, the entire process of riding a horse stretches muscles in ways similar to physical therapy…but it’s a lot more fun!
The aspects of therapeutic horseback riding that stretches muscles can also help to strengthen them. Leg muscles help riders stay on the horse, and the arm muscles get a workout on the reins. Just as the stomach and back muscles are stretched, they’re also strengthened as a rider sits up straight.
But can’t this be done without riding? It’s true that most all of the muscles used during horseback riding could be exercised via other means. But deliberate exercise can seem like a chore, while riding is always fun! Riding lessons are enjoyable, which means that people have the ability to do it longer than they would regularly exercise. The work part of it is forgotten as the play part takes over.
When working with a horse, it’s important that a rider make the same motion time and again to properly guide the animal. The horse gives immediate feedback, so it’s easy to know what’s working and what’s not.
Riding a horse allows disabled riders to engage in better motor planning, while at the same time increasing their reflexes. And while they might be able to do this in a physical therapy environment, horse riding provides a real-world example of cause and effect that’s both fun and challenging.
As the horse moves, the rider is constantly being moved back and force, which forces a rider to right themselves. This usually happens unconsciously in the riders mind, as muscles contract and relax in an effort to rebalance. This can be something that a person with a disability normally has problems with, but because horse riding is a fun task they will often handle it better than they might in other situation. This can even reach some muscles that are harder to target with conventional PT.
One very cool thing about therapeutic horse lessons is that they can actually help a person balance in many different situations, which exercises different muscles and improves balance in a variety of situation. For instance, changing the speed of the horse give the rider a very different experience. Changing direction or stopping and starting can also give the rider an excellent lesson in improving balance…even if they don’t know it’s happening!
One reason that many people have physical ailments is due to spasticity, which is when the muscles are in a constant state of contraction. Riding on a horse helps to relax the muscles in multiple ways. Some of it is the motion of riding a horse, or that of holding the reigns. Some of it is simply due to the warmth of the horse, which helps muscles relax. Being tired at the end of a great horse riding experience can also help to reduce spasticity, because the muscles are fatigued.
Increased Range of Motion in Joints
Reducing spasticity has another excellent benefit: increased range of motion in the joints. When combined with the stretching we mentioned earlier, disabled riders are simply able to move more and enjoy themselves both on and off the horse.
It’s a Sensory Experience
Unfortunately, those who are disabled might find that they aren’t getting outside as much as other people. But being outside has so many wonderful advantages for all of the senses, and horseback riding will engage all of them. There are new smells (both pleasant and unpleasant!) when working with horses. There are new sounds, from the clopping of the hooves to the neighing of the horses. The eyes are letting in all sort of stimuli. Of course, the bulk of it has to do with touch, whether it’s the feeling of a saddle or petting a horse’s mane.
Visit Our Lake Worth Stables!
While we don’t have any official riding lessons that are meant for those with physical disabilities, there’s no reason you shouldn’t give us a call and talk to us about how we might be able to accommodate. The most important thing is that the rider is safe at all times, and we want to make sure that we ensure that’s the case.
If you’re not convinced that the physical reasons are enough to bring someone you know to our horseback riding lessons or take a trail riding with us in Lake Worth, check back next blog where we will talk about all of the psychological benefits that can be gained from horse lessons!