Horseback riding promotes increased mobility, strength, coordination, balance, postural control, communication and cognition. The pelvis of a horse moves almost identically to the pelvis of a human. When walking, the human pelvis typically moves anterior to posterior (front to back), lateral (side-to-side) and rotation (circles). When a horse walks, their pelvis moves in the same three dimensions. A horse’s movement is rhythmic, repetitive and fluid. Their body heat and movement helps decrease spasticity in tight muscles. Riding on the back of a horse simulates human walking more accurately than any other therapy tool known to man. When a horse moves the rider must activate their muscles in order to stay upright and centered. Stronger core muscles lead to fine motor skills and speech production.
For children and adults with sensory challenges, horseback riding can provide nearly every type of sensory input all at once. When the horse walks or trots, the rider gets vestibular input (movement sensation felt by fluid moving in the inner ears). Each time a hoof hits the ground, the rider feels proprioceptive input (sensation of body position felt by pressure to muscles and joints). Most horses walk about 60 steps per minute. That’s approximately 2,500 inputs per average therapy session! Riders feel tactile input (touch sensations to the skin) when petting the horse, touching their mane and from the equipment they are riding on. When the horse is in motion, visual input (sight) is received from the moving environment. Auditory input (sounds) include the rhythmical clippity-clop of hooves, a horse’s whinny and birds chirping in the distance.