Friday, September 18, 2009

Therapeutic horse riding: kids with special needs make progress in the saddle

There is something about the horse. Beautiful. Rugged. Free spirited. And, therapeutic.

Many children with special needs find bonding, riding and taking care of horses exceedingly therapeutic and may be including in an overall treatment program.

Children with physical disabilities, such as Cerebral Palsy who have difficulties with locomotion, are able to feel the comforting natural rhythm of walking perhaps for the first time. It improves nerve and muscle coordination as well as muscle strength and can prevent further dysfunction caused by lack of muscle and joint use. Stronger muscles help with breathing, sitting upright and speech.

Many children with developmental delays or on the autism spectrum also find great reward from this therapy. Some children who have been previously non-verbal may speak for the first time when they want to communicate with a horse.

According to, therapeutic riding is sometimes called Hippotherapy (Hippo, Greek for horse) and can benefit a child in the following ways:

• relaxing tight muscles
• increasing balance
• building muscle strength
• sharpening hand/eye coordination
• gaining a sense of body-awareness
• gaining a sense of self-control
• gaining a sense of self-confidence
• improving communication
• improving concentration
• improving socialization
• improving patience
• improving fine motor coordination
• improving sensory integration

Here in the northwest – Seattle area we are fortunate to have a good selection of programs to choose from.

Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center -- Woodinville, 425- 882-1554
Founded in 1976, Little Bit is a leader in the field of therapeutic horseback riding and the first nationally accredited program of its kind in the Northwest. In 1992 Little Bit was selected from more than 500 therapeutic riding centers in North America to receive the Delta Society's Model Program Award of Excellence for performing outstanding service in bringing people and animals together.

Hawk Ridge Therapeutic Riding Center - Fall City, 425-222-0080,
The mother and daughter team of Joanne and Kate Woodcock founded the center in May 2000, along with their friend Doug McCowan, a veteran therapeutic horse instructor. The center, which includes a 12-stall barn, a 20-by-60-meter indoor riding arena and a 20-by-40-meter outdoor riding arena, is part of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA).

Northwest EquiCARE - Eatonville, 360-832-6386,
Northwest EquiCARE works with doctors, physical, occupational, speech therapists, special education specialists and many others to provide case managment opportunities for children and adults with disabilites to progress using hroseback riding therapy as a tool. NW EquiCARE is a grassroots agency, using volunteers in the community to serve the many disabled that have special needs. Please join the efforts of outreach in our community.

Equest Special Riders - Spanaway, (253) 539-9160,
Equest Special Riders, Inc. is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote physical and mental strength and coordination as well as self-esteem and enjoyment through horseback riding activities for individuals with disabilities. This program of trained volunteers, offering therapeutic horseback riding to persons with Developmental Disabilities, has been in existence since 1982.

Boots 'n Breeches, Lakewood, 253-370-1429,
Riding a horse is often one of the few activities available to people with disabilities. Mastering riding skills can tremendously boost a rider's self-confidence. And the special bond that often occurs between horse and rider can help heal emotional wounds. The smiles, the hugs, the tears of delight and joy say it all.

EquiFriends - Snohomish, 425-377-0802,
EquiFriends serves more than 100 riders per week from Snohomish, King, Skagit and Island counties. Our participants are challenged with a variety of disabilities, including ADHS, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Emotional or Behavioral Problems, Hearing, Visual or Speech impairment, Brain Injury, Learning Disabilities, Mental Retardation, Paraplegia, Stroke or CVA, Schizophrenia and other syndromes. Between 60 to 65 percent are children or young adults under the age of 20 years, with the highest concentration between 3 and 15 years of age.

For more articles by Seattle Special Needs Kids Examiner:


Anonymous said...

I would go to the ends of the earth for my children and anything that can be done to help heal them or make their lives better.
Smitch :)

Shea's Mom said...

You have such a great attitude, Mitch.


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