Equestrian Therapy

What is equestrian therapy?

Equestrian therapy or equine-assisted therapy uses horseback riding as a method of treatment for inpatient or outpatient rehabilitative care. This modality is one of Bryn Mawr Rehab's physical and occupational therapy services and is usually prescribed to complement a person's treatment program. Equestrian therapy sessions are conducted by a licensed physical therapist or occupational therapist with competency training in equestrian therapy and a therapeutic riding instructor. The sessions are held weekly at Thorncroft Equestrian Center, located one mile from Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital.  

The benefits of therapeutic riding for rehab patients

Equine-assisted therapy is designed according to each individual's needs and abilities. The equestrian therapist conducts sessions by walking on the ground at the side of the horse and rider. For those requiring an emphasis on balance, core stability, motor planning and coordination, the therapist as well as a riding instructor will walk on either side, stabilizing the patient. As they progress in their recovery, they can move on to more advanced sessions.

How therapeutic riding helps patients physically and mentally:

  • Physical. The physical benefits of equestrian therapy are based primarily on the movement of the horse. As the horse walks, the repetitive swinging motion helps to improve an individual's balance, coordination, and strength and muscle tone through their trunk, as well as their legs.
  • Cognitive. Equestrian therapy can also aide in improving cognitive processes through the course of learning or relearning riding skills after changes to cognition or attention. Cognitive skills improve because riding requires balance, stability, timing and planning so that the horse can receive accurate messages from the rider.

In addition, activities involved with caring for the horse and stable requires the ability to plan and execute specific tasks.

Horses used for the sessions are chosen for their gentle temperament. The horses then are trained to move smoothly and tolerate the equipment, noise and activity that are part of equestrian therapy.

The equestrian therapists from Bryn Mawr Rehab and the therapeutic riding instructors from Thorncroft are trained to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Sessions are conducted with the help of trained side aides and leaders to create a safe riding environment. Side aides and leaders are often volunteers with riding experience who help to lead horses and to teach stable management after therapeutic riding sessions in addition to assisting with therapy sessions.

Who can benefit from equestrian therapy

Patients with physical and/or cognitive impairments are the best candidates for equine-assisted therapy. Those referred for this therapy are often recovering from a brain injurystrokespinal cord injuryamputation, or have a disorder such as multiple sclerosis, although therapeutic riding is not limited to people with these conditions.

Equestrian therapy has been shown to improve self-esteem and encourage involvement in social activity. Participants often experience a sense of independence and gain confidence from participating in this therapy. After discharge from Bryn Mawr Rehab, patients may choose to continue with instruction and participate in horse shows and other competitions for people with physical and cognitive impairments.

Referrals for equestrian therapy

Referrals for equine-assisted therapy are made by physicians for inpatient or outpatient care or may be recommended by a therapist currently treating patients at Bryn Mawr Rehab.

Related specialties

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One of the first acute rehabilitation hospitals in the country to provide treatment for brain injury, we’re recognized as a leader in the field of concussion treatment and recovery.

Amputee Treatment and Rehab

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Horticultural Therapy Center

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Sports Medicine Rehab

As part of our specialized treatment for each athlete, sports injury rehab includes use of therapies and training exercises that not only mimic the demands of your sport but also address the unique conditions of the specific position you play within your sport.

Brain Injury Rehab

Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital was one of the first facilities in the country to offer traumatic and nontraumatic inpatient brain injury rehab as well as outpatient brain injury rehab and has remained one of the best rehabilitation hospitals for brain injury treatment in the Philadelphia region for more than 30 years.

Stroke Rehab

Inpatient and outpatient stroke rehabilitation treatment and complex stroke treatment. We develop a unique stroke rehab therapy plan that help patients immediately build on their strengths and learn to compensate for limitations.

Vestibular Therapy

At Bryn Mawr Rehab we help patients with chronic or acute dizziness and vertigo get back to active, normal living. With several outpatient locations in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, there’s sure to be a vestibular therapist near you.

Work Hardening Program

For people with work-related injuries and chronic pain, we offer a range of therapies through RehabWorks, a worker rehabilitation program that brings together a multidisciplinary team to support people who have lost functional capacity due to a work-related illness or injury.

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