Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK
CanTRA certified instructor Sallie Murphy holds a cone with rings for Marie, as she takes part in a therapeutic riding session with volunteers.

In Depth

Health

Therapeutic riding

Horses help riders clear personal hurdles

Updated February 8, 2008

Inside the Totem Saddle Club arena near Terrace, B.C., a group of parents and grandparents watch two children riding horses. The children are concentrating hard while the adults smile, clap occasionally, and whisper excitedly to each other. Someone who does not know the children might think they are watching an ordinary horseback riding lesson.

However, both children in the ring have cerebral palsy.

They are participating in a therapeutic riding session run by the Northwest Therapeutic Equestrian Association (NWTEA). Therapeutic riding involves using horses to aid in the development of children and young adults with mental, physical and emotional difficulties.

According to Lisa Burd, president of the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA), almost anyone with such difficulties can benefit from therapeutic riding, including people with spina bifida, brain injury, attention deficit disorder, emotional difficulties, autism and neurological impairments.

Chrissie, a therapeutic riding participant, gets ready for a session with CanTRA certified instructor Wendy Roberts.

Burd, who also helps to run a therapeutic riding program in Halifax, notes that therapeutic riding offers a wide range of physical and mental benefits to riders. These include an improvement in the person's physical, mental, social and emotional well-being, heightened self-esteem, improved mobility and balance, and a sense of achievement and independence.

Myra McMillan's three-year-old son, Colton, has been involved in therapeutic riding since the NWTEA program began in July 2007. McMillan says Colton, who has cerebral palsy, has shown amazing progress since joining the program.

"Before therapeutic riding he was not able to walk up to an object on the ground, stop, bend his knees and pick it up," McMillan says. "After two therapeutic riding sessions he was able to squat and now he can do the splits halfway down. Riding has helped him to stand on his own, helped his balance, strengthened his middle and helped him to be more confident."

Tailored program

Most therapeutic riding programs are run in the same manner. A panel of professionals, along with input from the rider�s physician, discusses the participant�s abilities and medical background. Long- and short-term goals are set, keeping in mind realistic expectations for each participant, and an individualized program is designed.

The goals can be physical, mental and/or emotional. For example, the focus could be on getting a child to mount a horse without any help from volunteers, to maintain concentration for an entire riding session, or simply to overcome a fear of horses.

Programs are set up around games that encourage younger riders to develop various skills. They often involve things such as stopping next to a low basketball hoop and dropping a ball in it, naming and touching the different parts of a horse, or riding backwards to stretch muscles in different ways.

Older riders focus on developing riding skills so that they may one day be more independent. This includes leading the horse through a series of obstacles and making the horse halt and walk on command.

Certification

Therapeutic riding sessions are led by an instructor. In Canada, instructor certification falls to CanTRA, which runs an internationally recognized certification program. In order for therapeutic riding programs to be CanTRA recognized they must have at least one certified instructor or someone working towards certification. There are different levels of certification that specify how many participants an instructor can work with at one time.

During therapeutic riding sessions, volunteers accompany the participant as the horse walks around an arena (if facilities allow for it, some riders can also go out on trail rides as part of a session). The volunteers who escort the horse and rider around the arena do not need to be certified but do receive training before accompanying therapeutic riding participants.

The number of volunteers varies, depending on the abilities of the rider. Most start out with three volunteers, one to lead the horse (known as leaders) and one on either side of the horse (known as sidewalkers). Sidewalkers are responsible for keeping the rider focussed during the ride and for providing moral and physical support to participants. Riders who are more independent may have fewer volunteers.

There are around 100 therapeutic riding programs with CanTRA certification across Canada. The organization provides education and insurance to members and keeps track of all therapeutic riding programs (www.cantra.ca).

Costs and equipment

Participants in therapeutic riding are not required to provide their own special equipment. Although programs often provide riding helmets for sessions, Burd says that many parents prefer to buy helmets for their children. Riding helmets must be ASTM or SEI approved. Children whose disability means that their head is incapable of supporting the weight of a riding helmet can wear a bike helmet, however they are then required to have at least two volunteers with them at all times. All other special equipment is usually provided by the therapeutic riding program.

Costs of therapeutic riding sessions vary across the country, depending on the program — each facility sets its own rates. Some programs try to offset the cost of sessions through fundraising. Others will waive the fees for families who cannot afford to enrol their children.

Some parents can reclaim the cost of the program through an insurance claim, but that depends on their coverage. Burd says that, at least in her area, the government does not help with the session fees.

Part of the appeal of therapeutic riding is that it offers a form of therapy without the traditional therapy setting (a therapist's office can be less than stimulating for some participants, especially younger ones). Instead of being stuck in a room with a lot of equipment and doing the same exercises repeatedly, participants in therapeutic riding programs are in an arena or outside with another live, sensitive being.

Furthermore, the ability to master an animal as powerful as a horse can provide a huge self-confidence boost to riders.

Sharon Young has two children in the NWTEA program. Cadio, 7, and Eric, 11, have both been diagnosed with autism. "They really look forward to their sessions," she says. "They are working toward better balance and greater confidence. It also gives them an interest that they can share."

Another important component of therapeutic riding is that it's available to young people who may not have the opportunity to take part in traditional school sports such as volleyball or basketball. Therapeutic riding offers them something that they can look forward to throughout the week and gives them a chance to take part in an activity that feels more like fun than like work — even if they actually are doing therapeutic exercises while they ride.

Of course, some of the participants probably do not realize that therapeutic riding is benefiting them physically, mentally and emotionally. Many are just happy in the moment, enjoying the freedom and independence that being on a horse gives them.

Back at the Totem Saddle Club, Jaco Strydom, president of the NWTEA and a therapeutic riding parent, is happy with the outcome of the day's sessions.

"It has been an amazing day, just to see the difference in the children," Strydom says. "I have seen magnificent changes with my son, Mikyle. His orthopedic specialist has commented on the enormous difference, especially the range of movement in Mikyle's hips. Mikyle loves therapeutic riding, it helps him physically and he gets to bond with the horses. He couldn't sit up on his own in the summer. Now, he sits up straight and doesn't always have to hold on. He's made a lot of progress."

Go to the Top

Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

World »

302 Found

Found

The document has moved here.

more »

Canada »

302 Found

Found

The document has moved here.

more »

Politics »

302 Found

Found

The document has moved here.

more »

Health »

302 Found

Found

The document has moved here.

more »

Arts & Entertainment»

302 Found

Found

The document has moved here.

more »

Technology & Science »

302 Found

Found

The document has moved here.

more »

Money »

302 Found

Found

The document has moved here.

more »

Consumer Life »

302 Found

Found

The document has moved here.

more »

Sports »

[an error occurred while processing this directive] 302 Found

Found

The document has moved here.

more »

Diversions »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
more »