Changing Lives

Stable Hands, Inc Equine Therapy (ETC) is much more than learning to ride a horse. It’s a wonderful addition to standard therapy techniques. We do not perform physical therapy on the horse. Rather, what we do is reinforce what the rider is already working on in therapy and at home in a very unique way, using gentle horses as facilitators. It is the relationship between the rider and the horse as a companion animal which seems to draw the rider intensely into each session. But it is the unique qualities of the horse’s body size, body temperature, and gait pattern that attract the therapist to the horse as a platform on which to perform exercises.

So, why use a horse when we can use a piece of equipment? The horse’s width stretches tight hips and his body warmth relaxes tight muscles. But the most useful and interesting characteristic of the horse for therapeutic riding is his pelvis. Each time a horse takes a step, the horse’s pelvis moves in the same 3-dimensional pattern that a human pelvis moves when walking. In therapy, one of the most important exercises we can do if a rider has poor balance or weak trunk and leg muscles, is to strengthen normal trunk and pelvic movements through repetition. When a rider sits on top of a horse, the horse’s pelvis moves the rider’s pelvis in the very pattern we are trying to achieve, and it’s all automatic! Now, add changes in speed, direction, and rhythm and you get a whole array of sensations and muscle responses that impact the brain and the body in amazing ways. Even if you did nothing else but sit on top of the horse and just walk around the arena for 45 minutes, you would still be getting a huge amount of exercise and repetition – ask anyone who has ridden a horse if that’s true. I know of no piece of exercise equipment that can accomplish this much in such an efficient and enjoyable manner. But of course, we do much, much more than just sit on top the horse!

We can work on other physical goals such as arm and leg strengthening, co-ordination, balance, and gaining movement in tight muscles and joints. We can also work on goals that may not at first seem to be related to horses. For instance, cognitive goals such as following simple or increasingly complex instructions, social goals such as relating to other riders and volunteers and gaining self-confidence, and even educational goals such as colors, letters, words, counting, and simple arithmetic.

Often riders with autistic spectrum disorders will become calmer and more expressive while riding. The horse is also the great equalizer. A rider who is not able to participate in school athletics can now learn a skill, horseback riding, which most of his peers do not have. For a person who is unable to walk, he now can move about easily by steering his horse.  A person who must look up from a wheelchair can now have a whole new and “higher” perspective. For some riders, it may be their first real sense of physical empowerment and freedom.

By working on all of the above goals, Stable Hands, Inc ETC hopes to improve the quality of life of each rider, and best of all, it’s so much FUN!

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