Ways Horse Therapy Helps Kids With Autism Connect

Equine-assisted therapy can help children on the autism spectrum build bonds and develop social tools.

Published March 11, 2023
Women getting toys for a autistic boy playing while on the horse's back

Children on the autism spectrum relate to their world in unique ways. Communication and mutual understanding can be a challenge, but through the power of equine-assisted therapy, children with autism and their loved ones are seeing tremendous success building bonds. Horse therapy provides every child an opportunity to interact and work with horses in a safe, controlled way. They will learn how to improve their communication, experience trust and confidence, and gain an understanding of how to respond to a variety of situations.

Horses Help with Communication

Horses are naturally good teachers. People with autism see the world differently and interact with others in their own unique way. They often find themselves in a world of their own, and equine therapy can help them learn how to relate to others.

Horse therapy helps because it creates opportunities for communication and interaction in a social environment. Horses are sensitive animals that respond well to kindness, so even if your loved one does not speak much or doesn't know how to express themselves verbally, the horse will still be able to understand them.

People with autism often struggle with social situations because they aren't able to read body language as well as neurotypical people do. However, horses are an exception. They're easy-going and don't expect anything from their riders beyond respect and safety. This lack of expectation makes it easier for someone who would otherwise be uncomfortable being around people.

Fast Fact

In 2022, one study using meta-analysis concluded that therapeutic horseback riding, "programs can considerably improve the social behaviors and communication skills of children with ASD."

Dealing with Sensory Stimulation

Many children on the autism spectrum face challenges with the way they process information. What a neurotypical person might take for granted, a child with autism might find difficult to cope with. They may be sensitive to loud sounds, bright lights, and other forms of sensory input. This is often referred to as sensory overload.

When interacting with horses, children learn to focus on the way the horse responds. The repetitive movements of riding also serve as a calming tool not only for those on the spectrum, but all who experience trouble regulating their emotions or behavior.

Studies have found horses can benefit children on the spectrum through sensory motor integration therapy. The goal of sensory integration therapy is to provide a structured environment in which individuals can learn how to process information from their senses. This is done through various activities designed to regulate sensory information in a controlled way, and help children with autism to respond appropriately.

Improving Self Regulation

Because sensory overload can be a challenge and interaction may present challenges for children on the spectrum, finding effective therapies is an important goal for autism researchers. Thankfully, horse therapy is showing fantastic results.

Not only does working with horses have a calming effort for children with autism: it also helps them overcome problems with self control and regulation. This means children on the autism spectrum having having better outcomes when they work with horses.

Success here is a big deal, because it provides another effective therapy option. For parents, friends, and family of children with autism, having a positive outlet in horse therapy can be game changing.

In the first large-scale randomized, controlled study to investigate the benefits of horse therapy for autism, psychologist Robin L. Gabriels found significant improvement in self-regulation, socialization, and communication.

Helpful Hack

Find a equine-assisted therapy program near you through PATH International.

Improved Motor Skills and Balance

Horse therapy is a great way to help improve motor skills, which can be an issue for autistic riders and those who have difficulty remaining balanced. Horses are large animals, and their movements require the rider to use their body in different ways than they normally would. This helps with balance and coordination, as well as muscle tone and strength.

Horses Helping with Autism

Horses can be great therapy animals for all people, including children with autism. It's not just about the horse but also about the way people interact with them. Horses can help children with autism achieve growth, self-confidence, and independence in a safe and controlled environment.

Ways Horse Therapy Helps Kids With Autism Connect