Several of our permanent residents have been approved and are actively working in a therapeutic riding program for disabled individuals at Harmony Ranch in Clear Lake, IA. The following text about therapeutic riding comes from the Harmony Ranch page - visit their page for more information!
Doctors, therapists, riding instructors, and families are becoming increasingly aware of the positive physical and mental benefits of horseback riding for physically and/or mentally challenged individuals. The horse's movement provides the sensory input of a precise, repetitive pattern very similar to the movement of a person's pelvis during normal human gait. The horse's center of gravity shifts forward and backward, up and down, and side-to-side as will the rider's. The rider has to adapt to each shift in the horse's center of gravity. By doing so, the rider is utilizing muscles to maintain stability, posture, and balance that he/she may not work on a daily basis.
The rider's muscle tone is improved when the horse's movements are transmitted to the rider. Each step of the horse requires a postural adjustment by the rider. The rider's abdominal, back, hip, and leg muscles contract and work together in ways which are not often possible for a person with a physical disability. The body warmth transmitted from the horse to the rider can help to calm and relax the rider, as well as increase flexibility in stiff and sore joints and muscles, allowing for increased range of motion. Consequently, head and trunk postural control, body symmetry, balance, flexibility, strength, endurance, and spatial orientation are all enhanced.
Contact with the horse demands constantly changing adaptive responses and automatic self-correction by the rider, resulting in increased responsiveness and adaptability. Additional skills, such as communication and hand-eye coordination are enhanced through the interactions between the rider and the side-walkers.
For individuals with impaired mobility, the horse provides a sense of freedom and independence, opening the door to opportunities that are not otherwise available to them!