Animal-Assisted Therapy
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Equine Therapy for Disabled Children

Equine Therapy for disabled kids

There are many kinds of disabilities that can affect a child's basic motor and communication skills. Unfortunately, many parents are given less-than-favorable prognoses from counselors and people in the medical community. Many are told their children's abilities and skills won't ever improve.

Counselors and therapists who include equine therapy in a child's treatment program, however, often see improvement in the child's abilities. Sometimes the improvement is dramatic. Twin boys who were diagnosed with cerebral palsy were expected never to walk. After three years of equine therapy, both of them began to walk. Similarly, a young girl with Rett Syndrome who had almost no muscle tone learned to sit up in a saddle after just three months.

Those are vast time differences - three years and three months. One of the difficult aspects of equine therapy is that every child will respond differently and there's no guaranteed time frame in which the child, parents, or therapists can expect to see improvement. There is, however, general agreement among those who use equine therapy that results of some kind are achieved.

One of the benefits of equine therapy is that the child is able to leave the more sterile, sometimes intimidating environment of a counselor's office and enter the much more interesting environment of a horse ranch. This change alone can be especially beneficial for children who live in city or urban areas and don't often get to enjoy more rural settings.

Learning to ride a horse requires balance and coordination. Many physically disabled children lack muscle tone, and consequently, their coordination is severely lacking. Equine therapy gives a disabled child a physically enjoyable experience (learning to ride a horse) that also helps develop muscle tone, balance, and coordination. It also helps the child develop and improve upon hand-eye coordination. It achieves the same results as standard physical therapy but in a more pleasant setting.

Therapy programs often include more than just riding. Learning to groom a horse can aide disabled children in their comprehension of the importance of caring for other living beings (both animals and humans). In addition, as the child begins to better understand how to groom the horse, the therapist can allow him to start directing the grooming process. A step like that does wonders for a child's self-confidence, not to mention that it's a natural decision-making and problem-solving activity.

Some of the disabilities and disorders that can be improved with an equine therapy program include cerebral palsy, down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, attention deficit disorder, stroke, and visual impairment.

Interestingly, equine assisted therapy is opening other doors for the physically and mentally handicapped. The Special Olympics now includes equestrian competitions at both the national and international levels and the Paralympic Summer Games includes equestrian categories.

 

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