Why Ride?

The benefits of riding for those with disabilities have been recognized for over 3,000 years, and were first recorded by Hippocrates (c. 460 – 377 B.C.).  The concept of riding as therapy to improve the lives of people with disabilities developed in the early 1900’s in England, Germany and Scandinavia, but was brought to the world’s attention at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, when Danish rider Liz Hartel, crippled by polio and confined to a wheelchair when not on the back of a horse, won the silver medal for dressage.

Today, therapeutic riding and other safe, purposeful and supervised interaction with horses are medically recognized to benefit children and adults with almost any cognitive, physical and/or emotional disability.

Physical Benefits include:

  • Increased pelvic and spine mobility
  • Improved balance
  • Improved coordination
  • Improved strength
  • Increased postural control
  • Increased physical stamina
  • Increased range of motion in joints and limbs

Cognitive Benefits include:

  • Improved communication skills
  • Improved verbalization
  • Increased attention span
  • Improved education

Emotional Benefits include:

  • Improved confidence and self-esteem
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Increased social interaction

“Horses lend us the wings we lack”
Author unknown

Why the Horse?

The connection between the horse and rider is a magical bond, inspiring mutual trust and shared responsibility with the common goal of empowerment. Every year, CARD’s therapeutic riding programs improve the lives of more than 300 children and adults with disabilities by helping them develop greater physical, cognitive, psychological, and social skills. CARD brings horses and people with disabilities together in positive, life-changing ways.

The average horse walks at a rate of approximately 100 steps per minute. Just 5 minutes on a walking horse represents 500 neuro motor inputs to the patient.  In a typical therapy session, 15 to 25 minutes of equine movement may be incorporated by the treating therapist-which represents 1500 to 2500 neuromotor inputs to the patient.

Incorporating equine therapy into an occupational therapy, physical therapy or speech language pathology session can serve as a powerful tool for the facilitation of the key neuromotor systems that support function.  Skillfully applied equine movement, under the direction of a therapist, can offer the patient the opportunity for complex motor learning.  Hippotherapy is combined with other standard therapy tools/strategies in an intervention plan designed to address the treatment needs of the client.

The horse provides sensory input through movement, enhancing sensory processing and increasing neurological and musculoskeletal function. CARD’s programs help address neurological, muscular, and skeletal dysfunction at the deepest and most fundamental level. The motion of the horse’s walk is similar to the human gait, and the swinging, repetitive motion improves balance, coordination, strength, and muscle tone while mobilizing the joints.

It is not uncommon for a non-communicative child or adult to verbally communicate spontaneously with a horse. The horse provides a focus for learning with immediate feedback, resulting in diminished levels of anxiety and hyperactivity and improved self-esteem, cognitive, perceptual, and sensory-motor skills.

Riding a horse allows a child or adult with disabilities to master a sport that few, if any, of their able-bodied peers have experienced. Riders learn that their abilities are greater than they imagined. They experience the joy of success and a mastery of skill through the accomplishment of learning concepts, accomplishing tasks, improved focus, and by striving for, and achieving, progressive goals.

The life experience of children and adults with disabilities can be one of limits. On the back of a horse, a disabled person sees the world differently. Riding gives children and adults with disabilities a chance to see expanded horizons. And, because a slight movement of the hands can turn or stop a horse, it gives them a sense of accomplishment, freedom, and control – all of which have an extremely positive effect on self-esteem, self-image, and self-confidence.

Riders who participate in CARD’s therapeutic riding programs belong to a unique and special community. They spend time each week with other riders, instructors and volunteers who have similar interests. Each rider works as part of a team that includes two side walkers and a leader, exhibiting purposeful, goal-oriented behaviour. Achievements are celebrated and recognized. CARD fosters a sense of solidarity and allows riders to experience something “outside” of themselves as they become an integral something bigger and more important.

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