By Melissa Collins
Therapeutic riding is one of the biggest programs at St. Andrews Presbyterian College, but what is it?
According to the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, therapeutic riding encompasses a variety of equine activities for people with disabilities.
People with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis and other conditions use the program.
The benefits of the program for the riders are multifaceted, according to St. Andrews Director of Therapeutic Riding Pebbles Turbeville.
“In the physical benefits, therapeutic riding has been known to help posture and balance,” she said. “Anyone in a wheelchair is supported by the back of a chair. This program calls for trunk control that many of us don’t think about.
“Mobility is also impacted,” she added. “What is neat about horses is that they move somewhat like humans. They move forward and backward, side to side, and have some joint rotation similar to that of humans. For someone who can walk, therapeutic riding can provide feedback to the brain to help them motor plan better.”
According to the American Hippotherapy Association, which focuses on the medical benefits of therapeutic riding, a horse’s walk provides sensory input through movement which is “variable, rhythmic and repetitive.” This input is believed to allow therapists to use the movement in combination with other treatment strategies to benefit the patient.
Additional physical benefits include improving muscle tone, circulation, eye-hand coordination, and body awareness in space.
Yet, according to Turbeville, the benefits extend beyond the physical, although they are not as easy to quantify.
“It is hard to test the psychological and social benefits,” Turbeville said. “Things like self-esteem, self-confidence. We need to depend on the input from the teachers. We like to promote independence in the program. A student might start out with a leader and two side-walkers and end up riding by themselves.”
Socialization is another piece to the puzzle, according to Turbeville.
“There is a social component as well,” she said. “You are working with a group of people in the ring, a horse, and the teacher. Communication has to happen. When we have non-verbal kids, they learn to communicate in other ways with the workers so they understand how to make the horses go and stop.”
Cognitive results are also a part of the program.
“Therapeutic riding can increase
attention span and increase knowledge, depending on the goal, Turbeville
said. “We do mostly recreation, but we are working with the teachers to
do educational components. We do some spelling words and if they are working
on body parts, we will emphasize them. We are looking at working on measurements.
We want to make sure that the schools receive a benefit. We want them to
be able to see the changes in the students.”
(c) The Laurinberg Exchange