Equestrian therapy uses horseback riding as a method of treatment in an individual's inpatient or outpatient rehabilitative care. This modality is one of Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital'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.
Therapeutic riding programs are planned 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. Individuals, who require an emphasis on balance, core stability, motor planning and coordination, begin with the therapist and a riding instructor walking on either side, stabilizing the patient, and as they progress in their recovery, they can move on to more advanced sessions.
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. 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.
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, in addition to assisting with therapy sessions, help to lead horses and to teach stable management after therapeutic riding sessions.) 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.
Who can benefit?
Patients with physical and/or cognitive impairments are the best candidates for equestrian therapy. Often, individuals are referred for this therapy when they are recovering from a brain injury, a stroke, a spinal cord injury, an amputation or patients who have multiple sclerosis. The use of this therapeutic modality is not limited to individuals with these conditions.
Equestrian therapy can improve an individual's self-esteem and encourage his or her involvement in a social activity. Individuals 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 are made by physicians for inpatient or outpatient care or may be recommended by a therapist currently treating patients at Bryn Mawr Rehab.