Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Benefits of Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies: Research Shows That Individuals of All Ages Who Participate in EAAT Can Experience Physical and Emotional Rewards through the Unique Relationship Formed with the Horse. That, in Turn, Can Lead to Increased Confidence, Mobility and Self-Esteem

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Benefits of Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies: Research Shows That Individuals of All Ages Who Participate in EAAT Can Experience Physical and Emotional Rewards through the Unique Relationship Formed with the Horse. That, in Turn, Can Lead to Increased Confidence, Mobility and Self-Esteem

Article excerpt

Horses have long been associated in our imaginations with heroic tales of knights on horseback and cowboys riding into the sunset. They have a unique ability to connect with humans and we humans react to a horse's energy, strength and perceptiveness. History and literature are filled with quotes by those who have discovered this truth:

"A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" (William Shakespeare)

"Honor lies in the mane of a horse" (Herman Melville)

"To many, the words love, hope and dreams are synonymous with horses" (Oliver Wendell Holmes)

Throughout the world, hundreds of thousands of individuals with and without special needs experience the rewarding benefits of equine assisted activities and therapies (EAAT). A physical, cognitive, or emotional special need does not limit a person from interacting with horses. In fact, such interactions can prove highly rewarding. So whether it is a five year old with autism, a veteran dealing with PTSD, or a senior citizen battling dementia, research shows that individuals of all ages who participate in EAAT can experience physical and emotional rewards through the unique relationship formed with the horse that can lead to increased confidence, mobility and self-esteem. It would seem that Winston Churchill was right ..."there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."

Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) recognize the quality of life issues facing persons with special needs. EAAT influence the whole person. They can have an effect on all of the body's systems, providing alternatives to traditional methods of treatment and a meaningful recreation alternative for people with varying disabilities.

EAAT programs may offer concentrations in several different areas of need. Each area encompasses specific goals and techniques, may be appropriate for certain individuals, and requires different professional personnel. Yet all areas overlap, complement and support each other, so an individual riding for sport or recreation also receives valuable physical and psychological benefits. Regardless of the concentration the participant/client, the horse (chosen for its size and temperament), volunteers (trained as side walkers and horse leaders), a certified therapeutic riding instructor and/or a licensed therapist come together as a team to achieve individual goals.

In Therapeutic Horsemanship, children and adults with special needs come together with their team to experience a recreational activity. Therapeutic Riding is taught as an adapted sport where participants learn the rules of a sport, the techniques of horsemanship, and methods of controlling their bodies to make the human and horse interaction meaningful. For individuals with impaired mobility, riding rhythmically moves their bodies in a manner similar to a human walking gait contributing to increased balance, mobility, coordination and physical strength. While mastering the skills necessary to ride successfully, attention, concentration, learning and verbal skills are further enhanced. The result is the combination of learning a rewarding activity while attaining the best physical and functional levels possible.

Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) is an approach to human development through therapeutic horsemanship. Participants engage in non-riding activities and learn alternate skills to draw from when faced with challenges. In recognizing a horse's ability to read and understand human body language, EAL can provide insights into the physical manifestations of any inner conflicts and a pathway to change the "inside" by changing the "outside." The lesson is that the horse is doing exactly what the human body is telling them to do and if they change themselves, the horse responds differently. The size of the horse also offers an opportunity for some to overcome fear and develop confidence.

Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT), which includes Hippotherapy, is the use of a horse by physical, occupational, or speech therapists as an integrated strategy to treat specific neuromusculoskeletal dysfunctions in a non-clinical setting. …

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