Many parents have seen the difference horse therapy can make in their child's life. It reduces anxiety, stress, and shyness. It also helps reduce agitation and excitability, and gives kids a way to connect emotionally. It's not just about riding and learning to care for horses, but also about building relationships with horses that can last a lifetime. That bond between a child and their horse is special, and it's something that can never be replaced.
Horses Help Kids Reach Out
Horses know when someone needs help. For children who may feel like they are alone, different, or misunderstood, therapy horses can have a tremendous impact. Many children are drawn to horses, and the bond they build together creates an emotional anchor children can rely on for stability. A horse will stop whatever they are doing to make sure the person they are bonded with is OK.
Horses are also naturally curious, so they want to know everything that's going on around them. Their natural awareness rubs off on kids. Children are heavily influenced by their environment, which is one of the reasons horse therapy is recommended for children experiencing life difficulties, whether physical or emotional.
Equine-assisted Therapy Builds Communication
Working with horses is all about empathy. Children aren't always expert communicators, and those who have emotional and behavioral difficulties often find that the bond they build with a horse is transformational.
Horses start to recognize voices and movements so they can anticipate what people want. This creates an almost telepathic connection between children and horses that makes it easier for both parties to communicate effectively without having to say anything at all. Children don't always know how to express themselves in words, but the horse learns to understand the child based on their facial expression, body language, and tone of voice.
Horses in Therapeutic Settings
A therapy horse is trained to provide assistance, support, and a positive experience for children facing physical, emotional, mental, and social challenges. Therapy horses have been exposed to all types of sights, sounds, and experiences. They also generally have significantly more time socializing with people than other horses have.
The use of horses in therapy can be traced back more than 2,000 years, when Greek physician Hippocrates recommended riding as a form of physical therapy.
What Conditions Does Horse Therapy Address?
Horses are often used in therapeutic settings to help children overcome physical or emotional challenges. The benefits of horseback riding can include increased flexibility and strength, reduced stress levels, better balance and coordination, improved posture and greater confidence in personal abilities. For these reasons, horses have been implemented into treatment regimens.
Horses can be beneficial for specific diagnoses:
- Anxiety: The physical connection between rider and horse helps children feel secure, which promotes relaxation. The rhythmic movement of riding also helps reduce stress levels by releasing endorphins in the brain, producing a sense of well-being.
- Attention deficit disorder: Horses are good therapy for children with ADHD because they help improve focus, reduce anxiety, boost self-esteem and increase social skills. Studies have shown that riding horses can improve memory, attention span, and motivation in children with ADHD.
- Cerebral palsy: Working with horses has been shown to provide specific benefits for children, including muscle symmetry and motion.
- Post traumatic stress disorder: Horses can help with relaxation and distraction, which are two important components of trauma therapy. Horses also provide a sense of safety, which is another key part of recovery from trauma. When riding a horse, the child's body is focused on riding the horse rather than the trauma, allowing their mind time to get out of the trauma-based mindset and learn the connection between positive touch and trust.
- Mood and behavior disorders: Children who are dealing with emotional difficulties or problem behaviors often act out and have difficulty coping with the challenges they face. Horse therapy can allow them to reach out and work through their feelings in a positive way, and help them empathize and communicate with others.
Questions to Ask the Practitioner
Whether you are interested in horse therapy for your child, or your child's family practitioner or therapist recommended it, there are several questions you will want to ask to make sure this is the best option for your child.
- Why is horse therapy a good option for my child, compared to other therapy types?
- How can horse therapy help my child?
- How long does horse therapy take to show results?
- What about my child makes them a good candidate for horse therapy?
- What other therapies should my child be involved in during horse therapy, if any?
- What can we expect my child to do in horse therapy?
- What activities are involved, and how can I help my child get the most from the therapy?
- What can I do to help my child benefit from horse therapy?
- Are there any concerns you have regarding my child riding a horse?
Most stables that offer therapeutic horse programs can also answer any questions you may have, perhaps even better than your practitioner if your question has to do with the program itself.
Finding a Horse Therapy Program for Kids
The first step is to find a program that offers horse therapy. If you live in a rural area, there may be local stables that offer this service. Ask your doctor or therapist if they know of any programs in your area. You can also contact your local horse rescue shelter or equestrian center to see if they have any information on horse therapy programs in your area. Most programs are local, but there are organizations that can help:
- American Hippotherapy Association
- Horses Healing Hearts
- National Center for Equine Facilitated Therapy
- Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International
- National Sports Center for the Disabled
- Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association
Once you've found a program that offers horse therapy, make an appointment with the staff at the facility and ask about the program's specific offerings and fees before signing up your child. If possible, attend an orientation session so you can get an idea of what will be involved for both you and your child.
Horse therapy is typically offered at least once per week for one-hour sessions over several months or longer, depending on the severity of your child's condition and how quickly they progress through the program. In most cases, your child will be paired with another child or teen who has similar needs, so they can work together during each session while being supervised by trained professionals who know how best to work with both children.
How Much Does Horse Therapy Cost?
The cost of horseback riding therapy varies significantly depending on the facility. At some facilities, the cost per session can run anywhere from $50 to $100. While this may seem like a lot of money, it's comparable to other types of therapy and may even be covered by your insurance plan. If you're looking for affordable options, consider visiting a local rescue or therapeutic riding center in your area instead.
A Fun Way to Help Kids
Horse therapy for kids is a great way for children and teens to develop social skills and learn how to interact with others. It can also be extremely beneficial for those who have been through traumatic experiences. At the same time, riding horses is a fun activity that also offers opportunity for therapy and individual growth.