Is your child suffering from ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, or other psychological conditions? The advancement of medicine and its subcategory has given rise to a different form of non-traditional treatment. Equestrian therapy (also known as horse therapy) is increasingly gaining popularity and usage for children with psychological issues. Equine-assisted psychotherapy, indeed, helps individuals (adults and kids) to develop skills like emotional intelligence, responsibility, and self-confidence.
Can equestrian therapy be used to help children with developmental delays? Read below to find out.
What Is Equestrian Therapy?
Equestrian therapy (equine-assisted therapy), commonly referred to as horse riding, is an experience-based modality incorporating horses to help target a range of psychological, mental, and physical conditions. Growing evidence emphasizes and supports the effectiveness of treatment using horses in a therapeutic environment.
How Does Equestrian Therapy Work?
This experiential therapy form involves a counselor/ specialist psychologist and horses working in conjunction with a client to help spark positive change. This specialist typically has training in Equine Assisted Therapy and may also have traditional training in the mental health field.
The therapy often comprises several beneficial equine activities like:
- Structured challenging exercises focused on the client’s goals and needs
Equestrian therapy offers unique non-verbal opportunities for the patient to improve self-awareness, face self-defeating cognitions, identify and address negative feelings, and identify maladaptive behaviors.
Who Is Equestrian Therapy For?
Most equestrian therapy programs are for people looking for mental health treatment. Generally, equestrian is recommended for individuals experiencing:
- Eating disorders
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- Relationship issues
- Lastly, behavioral problems
Horse riding (equine-assisted therapy) can also work for people with special needs, including:
- Visual and auditory disability
- Traumatic brain injury
- Spinal cord injury
- Spina bifida
- Muscular dystrophy
- Emotional/ behavioral difficulties
- Down syndrome
- Cerebral palsy
- Lastly, amputation
This therapy works for both adults and children alike.
Equestrian Therapy for Children to Address Developmental Delays
The CDC lists several disorders issues that kids undergo worldwide, from anxiety to autism spectrum disorders, developmental delays and disorders, among others. Developmental delay is a major concern for parents. It is important to note that developmental delay has several treatment options, such as equestrian therapy, and doesn’t predict the child’s future intelligence.
Causes of Developmental Delays
There is no single cause of delays in child development. However, factors likely contributing to developmental delays can occur before, during, or after birth. These include:
- Food or environmental deprivation
- Serious infections
- Exposure to particular toxic substances, such as prenatal alcohol exposure
- Severe psychosocial trauma
- Brain trauma (such as shaken baby syndrome)
- Metabolic disorders, such as phenylketonuria (PKU)
- Genetic/hereditary conditions like Down Syndrome
How to Treat Developmental Delays
Just as with the causes, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to curing/addressing developmental delays. However, directing therapy to the specific delay area is highly effective in helping kids catch up with their peers.
Such therapies include:
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech and language therapy
- Early childhood special education
- Behavioral therapy
- Equestrian therapy
How Does Equestrian Therapy Address Developmental Delays in Children?
Developmental delays can make it challenging for children to maintain their balance, gain motor control and muscle strength, or learn to skip, hop, throw, or run. For such children, equestrian therapy can help them improve their motor skills while building confidence to move. Besides, kids already enjoy spending time with horses.
Types of Equestrian Therapy for Children With Developmental Delays
Equine-assisted therapy is an umbrella term encompassing different forms of equine-assisted activities, such as hippotherapy, adaptive riding, and equine-facilitated wellness.
As with other therapy types, there are special circumstances in which equestrian therapy may be contraindicated. As such, ensure you discuss and obtain authorization from the child’s physician prior to starting any equine-assisted activity.
The three common types of equestrian therapy are:
It offers children with cognitive/intellectual, physical, or social-emotional issues the chance to ride horses with lessons specifically customized to their needs. Before the first session, a specialist thoroughly assesses the child’s needs and helps tailor the sessions around the child’s abilities, goals, and needs.
Hippotherapy – Occupational, Physical, or Speech Therapy
Hippotherapy–derived from hippo, a Greek word for horses–can be effective for a child with occupational, physical, or speech therapy needs. A horse’s rhythm, at varying speeds, patterns, and directions, helps to move a child’s body rhythmically and repetitively resembling a person’s gait.
This movement helps functional abilities like improving sensory capabilities, building target muscle groups, and communicating via verbal commands to the horse. The movement constantly engages a child’s balance. Additionally, expert-guided activities help to improve motor skills, coordination, and language skills.
Equine-Facilitated Wellness, Companionship, and Emotional Support
A specially-trained therapy horse offers emotional support and unconditional as well as judgment-free companionship. With the help of a licensed mental health professional, you can set goals and guide interactions between the child and therapy horse in a calm, safe, and healing environment. These sessions can support recovery from depression, grief, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, developmental delays, etc.
Benefits of Equestrian Therapy for Children
Equestrian therapy supports wholesome healing in children, which can help them tap into their innate self-healing abilities. This therapy encompasses physical, behavioral, occupational, and speech and language therapy, which further targets developmental delays.
Generally, the benefits of equestrian therapy for children include:
- Handling horses imparts skills in communication, empathy, and problem-solving
- Riding horses can improve physical health
- A typical equestrian therapy environment tends to be more therapeutic and friendly, unlike routine clinics
- Managing horses can help train executive function
- Horse riding increases a child’s confidence
- Physical exercises help to improve a child’s growth gradually
- It pushes kids out of their comfort zone to eventually manage their anxieties
- Equestrian therapy helps to address mental and psychological challenges that hinder a child’s daily interactions
Children with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities are typically the perfect candidates for equestrian therapy. However, equestrian therapy addresses various challenges across different age groups, from children to youths and adults. As a relatively unknown treatment option to most parents, there is a great need for awareness to help parents and guardians globally understand and access this treatment option for their children’s physical, emotional, cognitive, psychological, and developmental needs.
Venture Foundation helps raise awareness and funds to help address the unique needs of children and adults of all ages. Reach out to us to be a part of the global journey to help children and adults access options for addressing their challenges, needs, and goals.