Autism is a complex developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life. It affects the brains' development of communication and social skills. Students who have Autism benefit from horseback riding physically, mentally and socially.
Riding provides the sensory stimulation children with Autism need. The motion of the horse is highly rhythmic at a walk or trot. Riding is a very physical activity that helps improve balance, muscle strength, flexibility and posture. Because therapeutic riding is flexible to the students needs, balance exercises are varied i.e. riding backwards, sidesaddle, trotting or holding rings while the horse is moving.
Children learn to communicate with the horse using the reins, legs and voice commands, for example "walk-on" or "go", "whoa" and "trot". With non-verbal students the use of flash cards is implemented or hand signals are used to communicate. Riding helps social development. Students interact with the horse, instructor and volunteers when they are grooming their horse, while playing games during their lesson, singing, petting and hugging their horse.
One of my students is a young girl with Asperger's (one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders). For months I would greet her and say her name, she never replied or made eye contact. I would always have her start brushing her horse before her riding lesson. One day she came skipping up to me and looked right at me and said, "Hi Marla! Can I brush my horse?"
Marla Spraker is a NARHA Certified Instructor and has been an Instructor at REINS for over 12 years.
Written by Marla Spraker Last Updated on Thursday, March 04, 2010