How Horses Heal
The connection between people and horses is rooted in the nonjudgmental, unconditional interactions animals offer humans. Horses have a keen sense of perception, connection and caring. They can be amazing teammates by providing nonverbal responses and behaviors often acting as mirrors to help increase patience, strength, self-esteem and healing.
The sense of independence found on horseback benefits everyone who ride.
References to the physical and emotional benefits of therapeutic horseback riding date back to writings from the 1600s. However, when Lis Hartel of Denmark won the silver medal for dressage at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games—despite having paralysis from polio—medical and equine professionals took notice. It wasn’t long before therapeutic riding was being used for rehabilitation in England and then in North America. The first centers for therapeutic riding in North America began operation in the 1960s.
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 disabilities often show improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength.
The therapeutic qualities of horseback riding are recognized by many medical professionals, including the American Physical Therapy Association and the American Occupational Therapy Association.