Therapeutic riding began in Europe in the early 1950’s inspired by the performance of Liz Hartel in the 1992 Helsinki Olympic Games. Despite being partially paralyzed from polio, Liz won an equestrian silver medal in dressage. Medical and Equine Professionals took note of how horseback riding had benefited Liz physically, and therapeutic horseback riding was born. Therapeutic riding began in North America in the late 1960’s and has grown tremendously since then. Currently, there are over 881 therapeutic riding centers in North America with about forty of them located in Pennsylvania. There are strong national and state organizations (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International and the Council for Education and Cerification in Therapeutic Horsemanship) which set standards of practice and provide training for therapeutic riding instructors.
The benefits of horseback riding are as numerous as the types of special needs and conditions served. Research shows that students who participate in therapeutic riding can experience physical, emotional and mental rewards. Because horseback riding gently and rhythmically moves the rider's body in a manner similar to a human gait, riders with physical needs often show improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength. For individuals with mental or emotional special needs, the unique relationship formed with the horse can lead to increased confidence, patience and self-esteem. The sense of independence found on horseback benefits all who ride. The therapeutic qualities of horseback riding are recognized by many medical professionals, including the American Physical Therapy Association and the American Occupational Therapy Association. Testament to the benefits of therapeutic horseback riding comes from our riders’ families and therapists. Some family members have told us that their loved ones walk better as a result of riding. Others tell us of things that the children do only while on horseback. Therapists have commented on how much easier it is to work with some of the riders even days after they have ridden. Of course the best testament comes from the smiles on the faces of our riders and the progress they make.
Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International